Concerns arise if Ohio enacts long-term freeze of school accountability

By J.D. Davidson - The Center Square

(The Center Square) – While Ohio schools continue to navigate education during a pandemic, concern grows as to the impact of a potential long-term freeze on state school report cards and performance assessments.

In the spring, the legislature canceled state testing and froze school report cards as schools closed to in-person learning as the pandemic took hold. The Ohio Senate now considers a bill to eliminate the same accountability measurers for the current school year.

Without an accountability alternative, Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the Buckeye Institute, believes parents will lack critical information to make decisions about their children’s education.

“I want to be clear that we understand that holding a bunch of sanctions over the heads of schools during this situation is problematic to begin with, but that being said, assessments are a good measuring stick,” Lawson said. “They are imperfect. They are flawed, but parents have a right to understand what’s going on.

“At the end of the day, we’d be open to changes regarding how things are being done, but an ongoing freeze robs parents of the information they need to see what services they need to get for their students.”

Senate Bill 358 would eliminate state tests for this school year and encourages the state to ask for a waiver on federal testing requirements. It currently sits in the Senate Education Committee. The bill also would continue a freeze on Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, which gives public school students in certain districts a voucher to attend private schools if they choose.

If passed and signed, the bill would give flexibility for teacher evaluations and the state’s graduation requirements.

“Due to COVID-19, school districts will continue to experience barriers to education service delivery and instability in student data (particularly in districts with high concentrations of poverty). It would be misleading and unfair to require report card grades or punitive measures based on report card data during this time,” Jeff Wensing, Ohio Education Association vice-president, testified.

The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, and Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, testified that failing to extend the freeze would create more stress on teachers, students and families.

“Missing school has produced serious gaps in student learning. Coupled with the normal summer losses, teachers will need to focus on getting students back on track. Any pressure we can relieve so that the focus is on teaching and learning, rather than testing and evaluating, will help our students success in the long term,” according to the sponsors written testimony.

At the same time, Lawson said the timing is right for Ohio to establish education savings accounts, which would offer parents flexibility with their tax dollars to spend on things to enhance what is a new learning environment.

“In addition to information on schools, Ohio families also need the resources to afford the cost of educating their children during these uncertain times,” Lawson said. “Education savings accounts could provide these resources by allowing families flexibility in spending their education tax dollars on things like computers, tutors and other materials that strengthen their child’s learning.”

By J.D. Davidson

The Center Square

J.D. Davidson is a regional editor with The Center Square

J.D. Davidson is a regional editor with The Center Square