By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Findlay High School Principal Craig Kupferberg has had a chance to ask his question: What’s the purpose of all the testing?
The answer wasn’t one he found satisfying: It could be about making sure schools are all teaching the same thing, and not about preparing students for jobs or further education.
Kupferberg is part of a committee that has been meeting to review the state’s new graduation requirements for the class of 2018. The committee includes superintendents, principals, vocational school representatives, state school board members, a student and state lawmakers.
Kupferberg estimates that half of this year’s juniors are in danger of not graduating next year.
The state board of education voted in December to create the committee. It met for the first time Jan. 18 and has been meeting every other week in Columbus.
Kupferberg asked his question during a presentation on college and career readiness, made to the group Feb. 1 by Susan Therriault, director of the College and Career Readiness and Success Center at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C.
One of her research areas is strategies to help students transition from high school to further education or a career.
Kupferberg asked her whether high-stakes testing — such as the end-of-course tests that juniors must pass in order to graduate from high school next year — correlates to higher student achievement. It was a question he’d already looked into, and he hadn’t found a connection.
“And she confirmed that there isn’t anything,” he said.
So, Kupferberg wanted to know, what purpose do the tests serve?
Therriault explained that testing can be a way to make sure schools are all teaching the same thing, he said. Tests ensure that teachers aren’t interpreting standards in different ways and creating different courses.
According to Therriault, if schools prepare students to do well on a standardized test, “the classes are going to look much more similar,” Kupferberg said.
“Why make them high stakes? Why not just test the students, grade the schools?” Kupferberg asked.
The importance placed on the tests makes students take them seriously, Therriault said.
End-of-course tests are one of three ways the class of 2018 can graduate.
Current juniors can also graduate by getting remediation-free ACT or SAT scores. These are scores that, according to state universities and the Ohio Department of Higher Education, indicate students are ready to succeed in college classes.
A third path to graduation is earning an industry-recognized career credential — such as a becoming a certified welder by the American Welding Society’s standards — and a score of 13 or better on the WorkKeys assessment. WorkKeys is a three-part test on reading, applied mathematics and locating information.
The committee’s Feb. 15 meeting included a presentation on testing data from the Ohio Department of Education’s senior executive director for accountability and continuous improvement, Chris Woolard.
The data shows that students are doing about as well the first time they take the current end-of-course tests as previous students did on their first round of the Ohio Graduation Tests, Kupferberg said.
The class of 2007 was the first required to take the OGT to graduate, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The OGT, now being phased out, replaced the Ninth Grade Proficiency Tests, which were first required for the class of 1994.
Students in the class of 2017 can graduate by passing the OGT and completing course requirements, or they can choose to take the new end-of-course tests.
Five sections make up the OGT: mathematics, reading, science, social studies and writing.
Students pass or fail the tests independently of each other, while the scoring system for the end-of-course tests is more flexible.
“With the OGTs, when you didn’t pass math, for example, you knew you had to pass that test. So the students were more motivated to accept the intervention that the schools offered right away, as soon as they failed the test,” Kupferberg said.
But with the end-of-course tests, a student might get a 1 — the lowest possible score — on the algebra I test and not worry too much, because he or she might make up for it with a 3 on the geometry test. The requirement is at least 4 total points in math, and it doesn’t matter how the two test scores add up to meet that.
“So we’re not going to have as much time to assist these students to pass these tests as we did with the OGT,” Kupferberg said.
Woolard’s presentation also included economic data showing that students in districts with more poverty will need more support and intervention to meet the graduation requirements.
“Aren’t you concerned that this system we have now is going to create a bigger gap in the haves and have-nots in our society?” Kupferberg asked Woolard.
Students in urban areas are more likely to require intervention than those in suburbs, small towns or rural areas.
“The response I got, which I don’t particularly agree with, is we have that gap no matter what system we have,” Kupferberg said. “That’s true, but it appeared to me that this is going to create a bigger gap than what we currently have.”
The group began discussing potential changes to the graduation requirements at its most recent meeting on March 1. Options include lowering the total points needed to graduate, the ACT or SAT score requirement, or the WorkKeys assessment score.
A lower score requirement could be paired with additional requirements in areas like attendance, grade point average and community service.
The group will meet again on Wednesday and on March 29, with another session possible on April 5. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria will make a recommendation to the state board of education during its April 10-11 meeting.