Ohio Delays ESSA Submission to Federal Government

In an earlier blog, I highlighted a number of important proposals in Ohio's plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) spent over a year gathering input from stakeholders across the state via webinars and face-to-face regional meetings with educators, parents and interested citizens. After compiling the results and reporting the subsequent plan that Ohio prepared to submit to the federal government, the backlash took place. Many who participated in the feedback sessions complained that they were not heard or that their thoughts were not incorporated into the final plan. Consequently, State Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Paolo DeMaria decided to withhold Ohio's submission until the end of September to "...allow more time to review statewide testing and other issues before finishing the plan."

In mid-March, the ODE released to the public the draft state plan. However, the ensuing storm of criticism caused the ODE to re-think their approach and to pull their plans to offer the document to the USDOE for consideration. At the same time, the superintendent announced the creation of a "five-year vision for education in the state" signaling a much higher standard and goal for the state's education future than simply focusing all efforts on compliance with ESSA. 

The loudest complaints about the draft plan surrounded testing and accountability. Here is a synopsis of some of the most contentious issues that will be discussed further this summer.

Number of State Tests
 
Ohio's current plan calls for requiring 24 state tests K-12. The federal government through ESSA requires only 17. Many stakeholders in Ohio are outraged because they vehemently voiced their desire to have fewer tests, and they feel like their views have not been included. Seventeen state tests are challenging enough, they argue. Requiring seven more is seen as unnecessary and contrary to the wishes of the stakeholders. Further complicating this issue is the notion of duplication in testing. For example, can the state substitute the SAT or ACT for some or all of the high school end of course exams?
A Through F Grades
 
Stakeholders further explained that the current "A-F" grading scale on the Local Report Card (LRC) is meaningless. Furthermore, it oversimplifies a district or building's performance without providing detail. What does it mean to get a "B" on a LRC measure? This system appears to be more of a "gotcha" than a real statement of performance. Stakeholders want to see descriptive evaluations such as "meets standards" or "exceeds expectations" with, of course, a description of what these phrases mean.

LRC Ambiguity
 

Much of the feedback received has to do with making the LRC easier to understand. For example, "Prepared for Success" is a major component of the report card but how is it defined? What percentages are considered good or excellent? Prepared for Success for one person may be much different for someone else. "K-3 Literacy" is another major indicator on the LRC. This is a complicated calculation involving the number of students not reading at grade level in grades K-3, a 3rd grade Fall assessment, a 3rd grade Spring assessment, RIMPs, summer intervention, writing measures, etc. This measurement needs to be in a form that everyone can understand, according to those unhappy with the current plan.

Other issues will surely arise as the ODE moves through the summer and finalizes Ohio's ESSA proposal for submission at the end of September. However, we should pay close attention to an initiative that can potentially have a much more profound impact on education in Ohio. That initiative is the superintendent's vision of a 5 year strategic plan for education in Ohio. This ambitious move, if done correctly, can have a much greater impact on the education of children in Ohio than any accountability system. I believe the current superintendent has the ability to create a vision for education in Ohio that will hold high expectations for all and return the focus to the education of the whole child rather than test scores. The superintendent deserves our support and participation in this all important process.

 

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