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School Issues: Standardized Testing / All About the Fresh AIR

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: Standardized Testing / All About the Fresh AIRPhoto via timlewisnm on Flickr.
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Ohio is a Common Core state. That means, among other things, that it adopted a set of education standards that made it eligible for the federal Race to the Top Fund. While the standards are the same for every Common Core state, and participation in the program made Ohio eligible for federal funding, you can’t refer to the core standards as “federal standards”, because that interferes with the Common Core narrative.

Nor can you refer to the standards that drive teaching plans as a “Common Core curriculum”; because that irritates pedagogues.

Indiana is one state that jumped ship on the Common Core this past year, but most states are continuing their participation in the program. This, in spite of growing public contempt: a Gallup poll indicated that 59% of the US population was opposed to the standards, while only 33% supported them*.

Standardized testing is one of the most controversial elements of the Common Core. In theory, a child’s performance on the standardized tests demonstrates that a state is aligned to the standards, and is teaching its children well. To conform to the testing requirement, Ohio opted to use Pearson’s PARCC exams for the 2014-15 school year. Widespread dissatisfaction with the exams and boycotts led the state to recently dump the PARCC testing program.

In order to comply with testing requirements, Ohio will now contract with AIR to provide student testing.

AIR stands for American Institutes for Research. AIR is not new to Ohio. It built the state standardized tests used before the Common Core, the OAAs (Ohio Achievement Assessments), and some of the standardized tests used this year. It’s a reasonable choice for a state that had to make a quick decision on testing providers, in order to maintain testing compliance.

The question is, will the switch in providers be enough?

AIR’s OAA product never encountered boycotts or complaints at nearly the level of the PARCC exams. Here are the factors worth watching as the new tests evolve.

1) Who writes the questions? You can find a listing of the PARCC test writers HERE.

We went ahead and counted all the names on the State Item Review Committee: 50. Of those names, the number of people who were identified as active classroom teachers: only 12. The majority of contributor names on the document’s lists were from higher education or administrative positions.

To gain support, AIR will have to recruit more meaningful input from educators who are currently working with classroom populations.

2) AIR identifies itself as a not-for-profit organization. According to its website, it was founded in 1944 and is devoted to research in behavioral and social science.

Pearson is about 100 years older, and founded as a construction company. Today, it publishes text books. This has raised questions about conflicts of interest; that is, it would seem to be in a district’s best interests to invest in books from the test publishers.

On a lighter note, Pearson also published the first Dick, Jane & Spot stories in 1930.

3) The AIR tests will be shorter. And they will deliver results faster. Those are both features of the state contract. Cost-wise: standardized testing costs money. Districts that invested in resources for Common Core testing with PARCC will be able to use those resources for AIR tests.

The vomit instructions ridiculed by comedian John Oliver (“Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit,”) will probably still appear in the testing instructions in 2015-16, as they were part of this year’s non-PARCC OAA’s. For what its worth, students who vomit on their tests, but can continue to finish the exam, can be given a new booklet.

As for public reaction to the change, it’s mixed. For some parents the PARCC tests were a tipping point in standardized testing. Julie Pauley says, “It is no different than PARCC.” Another parent, Terri McKean Jones agrees, “I will be opting both my kids out of all of the AIR tests this year; I know more now.”

Others are cautious, still evaluating the changes. For parent Valerie Aveni, the choice is personal, “We did it (refused the test) for the well being of our children because of the unique circumstances of the test, the school’s approach to test prep, and the appropriateness for our children in their development at that moment. We will reassess when we know more about the testing circumstances this year – they will be at a new school and at a different point developmentally.”

But if the AIR experience resembles PARCC too closely, she adds, “I will not hesitate to refuse the test again.”

*The Gallup question was: “Do you favor or oppose having the teachers in your community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach?” You can read a Gallup summary HERE, and you will also find a link to its original study.

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