Sunday, October 06, 2002

Stakes rise in proficiency tests




By Cindy Kranz ckranz@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW RICHMOND - A year ago, New Richmond Elementary's fourth-graders exceeded state standards on all five sections of the Ohio Proficiency Test, so this year will be a test of the school's staying power.

        This week, all fourth-graders in the state will take the reading portion of the proficiency test. If they don't pass, districts must provide intervention and offer opportunities to retake the test in March and July.

TESTING DATES
  Fourth grade
• Oct. 7-11: Reading
• March 3-14: All subjects (writing, reading, mathematics, citizenship and science)
• July 7-28: Reading
  Sixth grade
• March 3-14: All subjects
  Ninth grade
• Oct. 28-Nov. 1: All subjects
• March 3-7: All subjects
• July 7-28: All subjects
  Ohio Graduation Tests (10th grade)
• March 17-21: Reading and mathematics
  Source: Ohio Department of Education
 
        With President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation comes extra pressure for the nation's school districts. By the end of the 2013-14 school year, all students must be proficient on the annual state assessments in reading, mathematics and science, said Dottie Howe, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.

        While that may seem like a long way off, schools are taking it seriously now.

        “The stakes are higher for schools,” said Principal David R. Riel. “You can celebrate 75 percent (current Ohio standards) or you can say, "My gosh, a quarter of our students didn't pass.' We want every student to pass. We think success in school is a predictor of success in life.”

        This year, Ohio teachers have additional tasks, since the state has mandated new English/language arts and mathematics standards for grades K-12 that became effective this school year.

        This year also marks the beginning of the end of proficiency tests in Ohio. They will be replaced by annual diagnostic tests, which will be used to prepare students for achievement tests.

        Though not vastly different from the OPT standards, there are some nuances that create extra work as teachers try to cover the bases until the OPT is phased out.

        For example, fourth-graders in 2003-04 will be the last class to take the reading portion of the OPT. By 2005-06, Ohio must have its diagnostic and achievement tests in place for grades 3-8.

        Meanwhile, teachers are trying to cover a lot of ground, said Judy Vornholt, facilitator of curriculum and instruction at New Richmond Elementary.

        “The next year is going to be difficult for fourth-grade and sixth-grade teachers,” said Ms. Vornholt, a former fourth-grade teacher. “We know the state is heading in a particular direction, if we can just make it through these next few years.”

        Ohio districts can choose which day to take the reading test. New Richmond Elementary fourth-graders will take the test Wednesday.

        Among the exercises teachers do with students is helping them tell the difference among test questions so they know what the test writer wants. “If you know the kinds of questions being asked, you're more apt to give a correct answer,“ Ms. Vornholt said.

        This year, the school of 600 preschool-6 students has dedicated an hour every morning to language arts. During that time, all students are reading.

        “We made a commitment to our reading program,” Ms. Vornholt said.

        “Comprehension is a big thing. You can read fluently and not remember a thing you read or be able to interpret what you read. It's the comprehension levels we're trying to raise.“



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