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Ohio Seeks Alternative Tests for High-Performing Schools

Ohio is seeking federal permission to let a small group of its high-performing schools and districts skip the regular state-mandated tests and design different ways to measure student learning.

State schools superintendent Richard A. Ross announced the plan on Monday, saying that 15 districts and schools have been chosen by the state to participate in the project, and are aiming to pilot new "locally selected or innovative" testing methods in 2016-17. The scale of the plan is small now, but Ross hinted that it could expand.

"Results of the trial could help shape state testing policies that affect schools statewide," he said in a prepared statement.

The schools and districts chosen to be part of the program would use the results of their new tests in the same ways that schools and districts currently do: for school and district report cards, and for teacher and principal evaluation, Ross said.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton told me that the state is preparing its request, but has not yet submitted it. He said that Ohio officials are talking now with the U.S. Department of Education about the proposal, but that its request is separate from the state's recently submitted waiver-renewal application.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, state lawmakers approved a measure last year that directed the state education department to start the assessment pilot program. Chad L. Aldis, the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a strong backer of accountability, told the Dispatch that he had doubts about the program.

"Finding the best test for Ohio's students is the right thing to do, but using different tests in different districts undercuts the state's accountability system," he said.

Ohio has been doing a lot of reflecting on its assessment systems as objections to its use of the PARCC tests has grown. In January, Ross submitted a report to the state legislature recommending various cutbacks in testing. That report also outlines the pilot testing program that the state is now seeking federal permission to enact.

The Dispatch also reports that a study group in the state Senate is weighing revisions in the PARCC tests and in science and social studies tests designed by the American Institutes for Research.

The project in Ohio fits into a picture that's rapidly coming into focus: States and districts trying to win permission from the federal department to break up the usual business of testing.

As my colleague Alyson Klein has reported, New Hampshire recently won federal approval to pilot new kinds of tests in a small group of its districts. Kentucky and Colorado are interested in doing something similar. We know from Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, that an unnamed state has been talking with the department about getting permission to break up its summative assessments into three or four chunks throughout the school year. And Jennifer Poon Davis, who oversees the Council of Chief State School Officers' Innovation Lab Network, told me that some of the states in that network are considering seeking federal permission for their own brands of test flexibility.

Related story: As Common-Core Test Season Begins, Teachers Feel Pressure.


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