Ohio: PARCC opt-outs to count against schools on report cards

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

Expect anger over testing to deal a blow to the Amherst and Firelands school systems when state report cards are released Feb. 25.

The Ohio Department of Education has confirmed that students who chose not to take last year’s controversial PARCC exams will count against districts’ grades.

“Virtually all” students — nearly 99 percent — took the state tests last school year, the ODE said in a release. “A very small percentage of districts and community schools experienced a substantial decrease in student participation. Most report card measures are not directly impacted by student participation,” the state said in a release.

Greg Ring, superintendent of the Educational Service Center of Lorain County, said he is doubtful that 99 percent is an accurate number.

Educators here said 177 Firelands kids and “several dozen” in Amherst refused to sit through the PARCCs as parents protested the high-pressure exams.

Elyria and Keystone also had high opt-out rates, Ring said, and Avon Lake, often the county’s best-performing school on the report cards, is expected to take a steep tumble due to the PARCC exams.

“That tells you right there that it’s more than one percent that didn’t take the tests,” he said.

Part of the problem is that parents have the right to withhold their children from testing. Ring said schools have no part in that decision but are still held accountable.

Last month, district superintendents across Lorain County, including Ring, Steven Sayers of Amherst, and Mike Von Gunten of Firelands, sent a letter to the state asking for PARCC results to be buried altogether.

Their plea was rejected.

“Teachers, parents, superintendents and education leaders believe that all students should take the tests, and their communities are better served when achievement is measured,” said interim state superintendent of public instruction Lonny Rivera.

What the state intends to do instead now is calculate zeroes from skipped tests into districts’ performance index scores. Those are the numbers used as the overall “snapshot” of how well schools meet student goals.

But the ODE will also release a “modified achievement measure” — a separate grade that does not reflect PARCC opt-outs.

Ring applauded that move.

The PARCC debacle is now in the rear-view mirror.

After scrutiny and condemnation last year by both the public and teachers, the state has switched to AIR tests, which are much like the old Ohio Achievement Assessments that pre-dated PARCC.

“Hopefully the new tests will be better, and sometimes this just takes time. The public has to understand anytime you transfer to a new curriculum and new assessments there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Ring said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk