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Bill Slashing Time Spent On Testing Passes House Committee Unanimously, But Another Raises Questions

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State lawmakers looked over two bills dealing with the controversial tests that students are now taking – which many parents, school officials and others are complaining are taking too much time and causing too much stress. 

One bill passed, but there are still questions about the other. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

A bill to dramatically cut back the hours students and teachers spend on standardized assessments passed the House Education Committee unanimously. Republican Andrew Brenner of Powell proposed the measure, and gives an example of how it would slash time on testing: “If you’re in high school, 32 hours worth of testing, or up to 32 hours worth of testing in high school for the end course exams – this would cut that back and limit it to three hours per subject area.” Brenner added, “So that would be a total of about 16 hours, depending on the various subjects.”

Rep. John Patterson of Jefferson in northeast Ohio is a former AP history teacher and one of the seven Democrats on the committee – who joined the 12 Republicans on the panel in supporting the bill. “I think we need to take the pressure off teachers; we need to take the pressure off our students. And a common sense approach and a balance, a healthy balance there between accountability for all and enjoyment of education,” said Patterson. “And that’s what we’re trying to see.”

Brenner said the time has come to deal with concerns about testing, which have boiled over thanks to the PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests. Students are taking the second round of PARCC tests this month. The first tests were administered earlier in the year, and thousands of parents have called lawmakers to complain about the length of time the tests involve. Teachers and other school officials have joined in in blasting the tests because the results won’t be available till the end of the calendar year, when the next school year is well underway. Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger of Clarksville said it’s obvious there are problems with PARCC. “It’s not just PARCC, but PARCC’s clearly a big issue right now, and a problem that we feel that we need to address very quickly,” said Rosenberger.

PARCC officials were in Ohio earlier this month to testify before the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing. Jeff Nellhaus is the chief of assessment for PARCC Inc., and told reporters afterward that the company has heard the message about testing time loud and clear. “So we’re looking at, is there a way that we can – without compromising two important goals, and that is to measure the full range of the standards and to make sure we get reliable results for our students – we’re looking for ways to economize, to streamline the testing time,” Nellhaus said. “And I think we’ll be successful at that.”

Brenner is backing another bill in the House Education committee – it would eliminate the PARCC tests entirely. He says he isn’t confident that PARCC officials will make the changes he feels need to happen. “They said, well, we’ll get to it. Well, we’re already planning for the next school year. We can’t wait on them to get back to us in the middle of next school year to tell us, oh, by the way, this is what we’re going to change because by that point, it’ll be too late,” Brenner said. “They need to be a lot more flexible and they need to be a lot faster in their – they should be making those decisions. Actually, they should have already made those decisions.”

And House leaders seem to agree - they stripped funding for PARCC tests in their version of the budget. But Republican Sen. Peggy Lehner of Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and that Senate Advisory Committee on testing, is urging caution. She notes the state receives $750 million from the federal government for administering that tests as a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. But Brenner says other tests could be converted to replace the PARCC tests.

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