Last year, frustrated parents spurred a movement by pulling their kids out of the annual standardized tests.
That movement has prompted state education officials to release more information with this year’s school report cards. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.
Last year Anne Brengman, a mother of two boys, says she faced a dilemma.
Brengman: “I think a big part of the problem is most parents don’t know what’s going on at school.” On one hand Brengman was confident her oldest son, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, would do well on the two rounds of standardized tests. But on the other hand the central Ohio mother says she was fed up with these tests -- calling them a waste of time and resources that put too much stress on teachers and students. Brengman: “I was hoping to shine a light.” So Brengman told the Lancaster City School district that her son would not be taking the test. Brengman: “I was hoping that if I told my friends and family that I was taking a stand then maybe more parents would join in.” In a way -- they did. The parent opt-out movement became a small but dedicated force, with parents in several pockets of the state deciding to pull their kids from the tests. And state lawmakers ended up voting to end the use of the assessment known as PARCC. But while the Ohio Department of Education can’t put a specific number on how many students opted out, officials say nearly 99% of the state’s students still took the PARCC tests. The department’s Chris Woolard is in charge of overseeing school district report cards and using data to help schools improve. And to do that, Woolard says, it’s important to get as many students as possible to take the assessments. Woolard: “This is about trying to make sure that all students are showing growth. It’s about giving communities an idea of the health of their schools.” So the Department of Education decided to do something different with this year’s report cards, which reflect last year’s PARCC scores. Each district will still have what’s known as a Performance Index grade - this uses the assessments to measure academic achievement. That grade will incorporate the zeroes scored by every student who didn’t take the PARCC. Which, of course, means lower scores than expected. This year, the state will release additional information, including what the Performance Index grade would look like every opted-out student was completely erased from the equation. As of now, these changes are for this year’s report card only. Republican Representative Kristina Roegner of Hudson agrees with this action. She even introduced a bill that would’ve essentially done the same thing. Roegner says she understands the frustration out there when it comes to over-testing students. But she believes this change makes sure school districts are not punished for those missing grades and parents aren’t punished for opting out. Roegner: “If they don’t want to that’s fine but at least let’s get the information out there so people can make informed decisions about levies, about where to buy homes, about where to send their kids to school and about whether they want to opt out. Information is powerful.” Heidi Huber is an activist who’s leading the charge for opting out and against the education standards known as Common Core. She believes there’s an ulterior motive for this extra information. Huber: “With the idea being that if parents saw the harm they were doing to their district they would stop opting out.” Huber, who’s running for an Ohio House seat in Cincinnati, says the parents opted out to change the system, to cut down on the amount of testing, to give teachers more instructional time and – she thinks – to ultimately drop Common Core. To Huber, this additional information side steps the real problem. Huber: “That right there tells you everything you need to know about the efforts that are going on in Columbus. Parents should not be shamed and blamed. There’s a reason parents opted out.” But state officials would argue that they have listened to the parents, since PARCC was ditched after just one year, replaced with the a test and the a testing window. So considering that does Anne Brengman, the central Ohio mother, still plan to opt her children out this year? Brengman: “I haven’t gotten that far yet.” She says her school district held an informational meeting and she’s still mulling over the changes.