Denise Smith Amos reports:
Teachers in Ohio are feeling a little overwhelmed these days.
They’re told they must help students master Ohio’s current academic requirements and pass annual state tests this spring.
But teachers also must prepare students, and themselves, for new Common Core requirements, tougher standards which will replace Ohio’s math and language arts requirements. New Common Core tests are expected in 2014-15.
And between now and then:
• The state is rolling out new school and district report cards with higher academic standards and A to F letter grades beginning this summer.
• Ohio is developing new science and social studies standards and tests.
• Ohio has ordered schools to test reading proficiency as early as kindergarten and provide extra help to slow readers because, beginning in the 2013-14 school year, third-graders can held back if they’re reading behind their grade level.
• Schools will begin evaluating teachers annually, basing half the evaluation on student test scores. For the first time teachers can lose jobs or a raise based on test scores.
Teachers and principals are reeling trying to prepare for it all, they said. Never has so much changed so quickly and pulled them in some many conflicting directions, they say.
“I’ve been in education 18 years; never have I experienced so many changes,” said Julie Renner, principal of Locust Corner Elementary in the New Richmond district in Clermont County. “They’re constantly throwing more stuff at us.”
“It’s crazy,” Gail Karle said. “Everybody is on edge. I feel sorry for them.”
Karle, a teacher at Mount Healthy schools, said her district is ahead of others in preparing for some changes, but it’s potentially behind in others.
For instance, she said, teachers already are pushing Common Core lessons into their daily classroom instruction and creating practice tests to prepare students without the benefit of new textbooks or even sample questions from the yet-to-be-created real state tests.
Ohio and other states have yet to pick the test vendors who will produce the tests, due in 2014-15, the same school year Ohio will launch its own new science and social studies tests.
The new Common Core tests are supposed to be filled out on computers, not on paper, with students showing even their math work on computers.
Like many high-poverty districts, many of Mount Healthy’s youngest students don’t have computers at home and are behind peers in keyboarding and other computer skills, Karle said.
Educators say they are making educated guesses about what will be in the new Common Core tests, which are supposed to go deeper into fewer subjects than Ohio’s current tests.
Cincinnati Public Schools created “crosswalk” lesson guides to help teachers bridge old and new standards, said Mary Ronan, superintendent of the 33,000-student district.
“We are struggling; I think the teachers feel overwhelmed,” she said. “We tell them … teach to the Common Core but add these lessons in because (students are) still taking the old tests.”
Even more nerve-wracking for teachers of kindergarten through third grade is Ohio’s new third-grade reading guarantee, which could begin holding back slow-reading third-graders in 2013-14.
The law says that schools must identify struggling readers and provide those kids with extra help from kindergarten on.
If by the end of third grade they still read below grade level, the children can be held back.
For every student held back, teachers from kindergarten through third grade will be tainted, said Enos Pennington, New Richmond’s spokesman and father of a teacher.
“The third-grade reading guarantee is scaring (teachers) to death,” he said. “I know some second-grade teachers who were (asking), ‘What are you going to teach? I’m supposed to be educating kids who can read already.’”
The changes are alarming high school teachers as well because instead of students having to take and pass the Ohio Graduation Test, which is first given in 10th grade, the new Common Core system will include multiple end-of-course exams tailored to specific classes and subjects throughout the high school years.
Students who fail the OGT can retake it multiple times until they pass. If they don’t pass all five parts, they can’t graduate.
It’s unclear what will happen if students fail end-of-course exams, which also are still under development.
Social studies teacher Jeff Wadl at Lakota West High School said he is still trying to get today’s sophomores to pass the OGT while at the same time preparing himself and his lesson plans for next year’s students.
Wadl said districts may have to create their own end-of-course exams for next year to better transition students to new state exams the following school year.
Wadl tests students now on a quarterly basis, but he’s going to have to add more review sessions, he said, to help students remember what they learn early in the semester in time for their end-of-course exams.
“It’s going to be more challenging,” he said. “I don’t know what we will do at the end of the year if kids don’t pass (end-of-course) exams.”
Add to that a recent law change. Beginning next school year, Ohio’s social studies teachers must add lessons about our country’s “founding documents” to their instruction. Teachers said they are just beginning to decide where to fit those lessons and tests in.
Although Wadl doesn’t know specifically what will be on the new exams or how much it will take for students to pass them, he says he’ll continue teaching his students to think more analytically, getting them used to writing longer test answers and backing up their arguments.
That’s a good strategy and ought to make teachers more confident about the new tests, said Steve Phelps, a Madeira High School math teacher.
He said districts have known for at least two years that higher academic standards were coming. National education trends for several years have been emphasizing analytical, deeper-thinking skills and collaborative learning for students.
Teachers who train students to use these mental tools – rather than just lecturing and making students memorize notes – will make the switch to Common Core more easily, Phelps said.
For instance, the new math tests will focus on “mathematical practices,” such as requiring students to show their work and explain how they solved math problems, in a similar way they would argue a point in an essay. Few OGT questions require that now, but Common Core tests will likely require more of it, Phelps said.
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