Sunday, June 11, 2000

Ohio schools must evaluate test guides

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Teachers trying to prepare students for proficiency tests have many choices when it comes to preparation guides — too many, according to some.

        At least 10 companies now market curriculum guides in Ohio aimed at ensuring that schools cover what's in the state's standardized tests. The 611 school districts statewide can decide for themselves how to use the guides to shape or supplement their curricula.

        “I just think the process of eliminating is very time consuming, trying to figure out what the best products are for the money,” said Anne Stephens, the director of programs at Steubenville city schools.

        Some companies, such as Englefield & Arnold Publishing of Columbus, publish material tailored to the standards measured by the tests. Others, such as Barrett Kendall Publishing of Austin, Texas, sell general preparation materials they advertise as applicable to Ohio's tests.

        Materials include workbooks for students and teacher's editions.

        The state Education Department is concerned about the proliferation of guides, though it isn't ready to regulate them yet.

        “My greatest concern is they may not be aligned with the Ohio course of study, from which our tests are constructed,” said Bob Bowers, the department's associate superintendent of curriculum and assessment. “They may give students or parents a false sense of how well they're doing.”

        The department plans to develop its own guidelines for preparation for the proficiency tests.

        “Ultimately, it's my goal within the next two years to eliminate that need for districts to be out there having to make those kinds of decisions just because of the statewide testing program,” Mr. Bowers said.

        “If they're making them because they want more material or want additional things, that's a different story.”

        Until then, however: “Buyer beware,” Mr. Bowers said.

        Having to choose from a variety of curriculum guides adds to the pressures associated with the proficiency tests, said Richard Packert, a middle school teacher with 17 years' experience.

        “The state's coming in and dictating that the kids have to pass the test,” said Mr. Packert, 38, who teaches at Vail Middle School in Middletown. “Teachers are having to make sure kids pass the test.”

        Because the state is rewriting the test that students will need to pass for graduation, school districts have to keep shopping for new test prep guides. That takes time and money, Mr. Packert said.

        Computer Curriculum Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., sees opportunity in states like Ohio. The company sells software that can be modified to the standards of specific tests.

        “Teachers can get quantifiable reports that show how students are gaining and learning,” company spokesman Jim Bowler said.

        James Killoran, whose Jarrett Publishing Co. markets social studies guides tailored to Ohio's proficiency tests, isn't keen on the state recommending guides.

        “Any preparation test needs many different materials, many different avenues,” said Mr. Killoran, of Ronkonkoma, N.Y. “Put the books out there that are worthy of inclusion, let the teachers decide, let the market decide. That's the American way.”

        Buckle Down Publishing of Iowa City, Iowa, markets a widely used series of curricula aimed at Ohio's proficiency tests, including “Sharpen Up! on Ohio Citizenship.”

        A district's biggest challenge is determining whether a curriculum really meets the needs of Ohio schoolchildren, said company president Doug Pauld.

        “It's hard to distinguish between materials developed exclusively for Ohio and material developed for national distribution that claims to match Ohio,” Mr. Pauld said.

        Ms. Stephens, of Steubenville city schools, proposes a statewide team to create a curriculum package for each proficiency test.

        “If you look at 600-plus school districts in Ohio and each one is trying to develop something for their multiple schools, you have a lot of time being spent doing that,” Ms. Stephens said.


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