Two standardized exams fail budget test
That social-studies test that keeps tripping up Ohio's fifth-graders won't be a problem this school year or the next. When state legislators shook hands on a biennial budget last month, they agreed to kill the standardized social-studies test as well as the fourth-grade writing exam.
That will save a total of $4.4 million over the next two school years in elementary testing alone, the Ohio Department of Education says. The department thinks that, although the budget language now says the cuts apply to elementary testing, legislators also intend to apply it to middle-school testing. That would double the savings and kill the seventh-grade writing and eighth-grade social-studies tests, too.
The writing test is slightly more expensive than some other tests, costing $1.2 million each time it's given, because it can't be scored on a computer, department spokesman Scott Blake said. About 130,000 students take the tests each year.
Now, third- and fourth-graders will be tested only in math and reading; and fifth-grade students will take math, reading and science exams. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that those subjects be tested at certain intervals during a student's schooling. In Ohio, students' scores on those exams are used to give schools and districts ratings that equate to a grade of A through F.
On the most recent tests, in May, about 85 percent of Ohio fourth-graders passed the writing exam. About 61 percent of fifth-graders passed social studies, but only 30 percent of black students and 43 percent of Latino students did. Without a standardized test to measure such things, it's unclear how the state will be aware of achievement gaps.
"I don't see any evidence here that says Ohio students have mastered this subject, therefore we could discontinue it," said Mark Real, president of the Columbus-based education-advocacy group KidsOhio.org. "We would want to use this information to help close that gap."
State Sen. Dale Miller, a member of the budget conference committee that approved ending the tests, said he would keep the tests if the state had more money.
But as things stand, "we'd have to cut out something else that would be equally important," Miller said. Some other states have cut standardized tests under budget strain: Florida eliminated a testing program, and North Carolina is considering doing so.
Ohio has plenty of tests, the state's largest teachers union said, and losing these won't leave a hole. "I don't think removing either one of them will affect the quality of instruction," said Randy Flora, who oversees education policy at the Ohio Education Association.