Testing should take a back seat to mental health, educators say

By: - February 19, 2021 12:50 am

A teenage student. (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images).

Educators say the focus of schooling this year should be recovering from the trauma of a pandemic rather than worrying about testing scores.

The Ohio House committee on primary and secondary education is moving along with House Bill 67, a Republican-sponsored bill to waive state testing for the school year and request a waiver for federal testing.

School superintendents and teachers unions spoke on Thursday about the struggle to conduct testing while maintaining social distancing, along with the lessened value of testing as schools continue to adapt to pandemic learning.

“Forcing schools to administer state tests this year will yield minimally useful data while robbing teachers of precious time which could be spent meeting individual students’ needs,” said Christopher Hanke, superintendent of Garfield Heights City Schools.

The possibility of not getting a federal waiver for testing still exists, but as those that are still planning to conduct tests such as the ACT are seeing first-hand the resources needed to be able to do the assessments safely.

The Global Impact STEM Academy in Clark County is preparing for 108 juniors to take the ACT, with testing rooms no larger than eight students with two proctors, according to chief academic officer Jamison Truebenbach.

“So we are testing a significant amount of students and utilizing every staff member we have, almost to the point of utilizing our janitor,” Truebenbach told the committee.

In spoken and written statements, many wanted to see more attention given to students mental and emotional health in getting back to school, rather than trying to make testing work, especially as testing begins less than a month after some districts would be back in person.

“I’m very concerned about the trauma surrounding this pandemic in my community that I represent as superintendent,” Hanke said.

Members of school districts across the state submitted testimony supporting the test waivers.

Sean McCullough, an intervention specialist for Licking Heights High School, said he’s felt the stress of developing a student-teacher relationship during online learning and keeping students engaged, but adding testing to the students’ burden will impact them even more than the struggles of teachers.

“The trauma of not being able to be social around their friends, fear that if students walk next to someone, they could contract or pass along COVID-19, or in some cases, see someone die due to the effects of COVID-19 are harrowing for children who are trying to develop their personalities, ideals, and choices that will shape their adult lives,” McCullough said.

Aside from the trauma, educators say taking the tests at this point wouldn’t help districts understand the gaps children experienced during the pandemic any better than individualized help and evaluations done by teachers.

“It’s going to take, I would argue…at least until the end of this school year, possibly the beginning of the next school year to identify the gaps and see where our students are,” Hanke said.

At the committee meeting, co-sponsor, state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, added an amendment to the bill similar to one passed in the last General Assembly, which allowed districts to use final course grades to determine graduation eligibility if students were unable to take or retake end-of-the-year testing.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.