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Teaching to Test Criticized

DAYTON | Teachers trying to get their students to pass high-stakes proficiency tests such as the new Ohio Graduation Test should focus their efforts on developing their students' higher-order thinking skills rather than simply drilling to the test, a U.S. Department of Education official told 250 Ohio educators Thursday.

Raymond Simon, the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said school districts that are taking steps such as canceling recess, eliminating arts and music classes and spending inordinate amounts of time on test-taking strategies are missing the point of the No Child Left Behind act.

The federal law's testing requirements are designed to ensure students are getting the help they need to achieve at their grade level, Simon said.

"Testing can be a powerful force for good in schools," Simon said.

But one local superintendent told attendees of "The Ohio Graduation Test: Perspectives on High-Stakes Testing" conference held at Sinclair Community College that even those in high-achieving school districts worry about proficiency testing's potentially negative impact on teaching and learning.

Judy Hennessey superintendent of the Oakwood City Schools, which consistently scores at or near the top on state exams said her community "is not enamored" of the OGT, Ohio's new graduation test.

There are inconsistencies between what the OGT measures and what college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT measure, Hennessey said.

And she challenged researchers to examine what happens to the quality of instruction when poor-performing districts go into "test-survival mode" to get their students to pass the exams.

The Ohio Graduation Test, which is replacing the Ohio Ninth Grade Proficiency Test, will be given to this year's sophomores in March 2005.

Those students will be the first class that must pass all five portions of the exam reading, writing, math, social studies and science to get their high school diploma.

Teachers have not had sufficient access to the state's model curriculum in some subject areas to adequately prepare for the graduation test, said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

And three of the five subject areas to be tested in March science, social studies and writing did not receive the widespread "dry runs" that the OGT math and reading exams did, the teachers' union president said.

"We're just a little ahead of ourselves. We need to slow down a little," Mooney said.

An analysis by Achieve Inc. of six states' high school exit exams, including the Ohio test, suggested that Ohio's reading exam is not as rigorous as other states' tests, said Matt Gandal, Achieve's executive vice president.

While the OGT math test has more advanced algebra than the average state's math test, it contains fewer advanced-reasoning and problem-solving questions, the study showed.

Gandal recommended that Ohio avoid weakening its exams or delaying the implementation of the graduation test, and that it expand tutoring and other opportunities for extra help.

The conference was sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the University of Dayton.

— Mark Fisher and Scott Elliott
Dayton Daily News


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