On May 18, another bill aimed at repealing Common Core in Ohio was introduced. House Bill 212 is far more troublesome than its many predecessors, mainly because it aims to do far more than repeal Common Core. Legislators should put this bill out to pasture, and here’s why.
The war on assessments
HB 212’s worst offense is that it declares war on a rigorous assessment system. First, the bill’s text calls for the adoption of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core standards. (We've talked before about why Massachusetts decided to move away from its previous standards in favor of Common Core, and questioned why Ohio would want to pick up another state’s standards when that state has already decided they were no longer good enough.) In an effort to align standards with assessments, HB 212 also calls for the use of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core tests—which is logical in this circumstance and definitely not the worst option as far as tests go. (This past year, Massachusetts allowed districts to choose between the state test, MCAS, and PARCC). Unfortunately, HB 212 also allows for the adoption of another test—the state assessments administered in Iowa prior to 2010. Currently, Iowa is a Smarter Balanced state. But back in 2010, Iowa used the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (for elementary and middle schools) and the Iowa Test of Educational Development (for high schools). Many schools in Ohio already use the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (often as a diagnostic for gifted programs), so the assessment wouldn’t be completely new to districts and schools. But using a test as a low-stakes, additional measure of achievement is different than making it a state assessment that determines report card grades. (Not to mention the fact that Iowa tests are designed to be norm-referenced, not criterion-referenced, which brings up a whole separate set of issues.) Furthermore, the Iowa tests aren’t aligned to Massachusetts’s standards—meaning that if districts choose to go with Iowa tests, they’d be choosing a test that isn’t aligned to the state’s chosen standards. Even more worrisome, HB 212 compels the state education department to create a “method for comparison” in order to calculate report card ratings. Comparing two distinct tests is tricky enough when the comparisons are for the sake of policy recommendations or research observations—but comparing tests in a valid and fair enough way to assign school letter grades? That’s really sticky territory. In short, it’s a mess.
Unfortunately, the bill’s move to multiple state tests (and the problems associated with them) isn’t the only questionable decision in its war on assessments. HB 212 not only eliminates the requirement for local school boards to report the results of kindergarten diagnostic assessments, it also eliminates the requirement that every student be given the kindergarten readiness assessment. Since good teaching requires diagnosing where kids start, it’s hard to imagine that districts will stop administering the diagnostic just because it’s no longer state law. But the removal still begs the simple question of why: If teachers need to know where kindergarten students are at the beginning of the year in order to meet their needs, and if Ohio Revised Code expressly forbids schools from using the readiness assessment as a way to keep students from enrolling in kindergarten, then why remove the requirement at all?
In a final strike against assessments, HB 212 gets rid of end-of-course American history and American government tests in high schools. This is a shocking move, considering recent NAEP data shows that only 18 percent of eighth graders are proficient or advanced in U.S. history. Only 27 percent are proficient in geography, and only 23 percent are proficient in civics. This isn’t a new problem either: A 2013 report from the Heartland Institute discusses American students' "alarmingly weak" grasp of history and civics, and my colleague Robert Pondiscio has argued that high schoolers should be required to pass the U.S. citizenship test. For a country that prides itself on its exceptionalism, the lack of history and civics knowledge among our children is appalling. We should be emphasizing the mastery of American history and government content—not belittling its value as a core subject worthy of assessment.
Cherry picking strategies
Much attention is given to Massachusetts in HB 212. This admiration for the Bay State isn’t misplaced: It consistently outperforms other states, and its students compete well on international tests. But if policymakers are hoping to graft Massachusetts results onto Ohio by adopting their standards and assessments, they’re missing a key component—improving teacher licensure.
During previous repeal attempts in Ohio, Common Core opponents brought in Sandra Stotsky to testify. Stotsky is often asked to testify because of her role on Common Core’s Validation Committee. But even more importantly, she worked in Massachusetts’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1999 to 2003. During her tenure at the department, Stotsky supervised comprehensive revisions to the same Massachusetts standards and assessments that HB 212 now seeks to time-warp into Ohio. The problem, however, is that HB 212 cherry picks Stotsky’s work. While Stotsky has strong feelings about the Common Core that opponents find useful, they often ignore her equally passionate argument that changes to the teacher licensing system were just as instrumental to the “Massachusetts education miracle” as high standards and assessments. In her new book, Stotsky fleshes out this argument by indicating that policymakers should be revamping the teacher licensure system if they really want to improve student achievement. Considering how much stock Common Core opponents put into what Stotsky says about standards, it’s interesting that a reform she champions as equally important has gotten virtually no attention.
Not only have the bill sponsors ignored Stotsky’s championed reform, their proposal would actually make the licensure system in Ohio worse (which is saying something, since it’s already seriously flawed). Ohio currently has a teacher residency program that was designed to provide support to teachers during their first four years through mentorship, collaboration with veteran educators, professional development, and assessment feedback. In order to successfully complete the program and move to a more advanced license, teachers must take and pass the Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA)—a performance-based assessment that requires a teacher to submit a portfolio of evidence and completed tasks. The assessment measures a teacher’s ability to design and deliver instruction that is engaging, emphasizes higher-order thinking, and uses data to drive instruction. Unfortunately, HB 212 mandates the removal of this assessment. In doing so, the bill eliminates the method by which Ohio teachers are judged to be ready for a professional license—with no alternatives in sight.
Considering Ohio’s troubling honesty gap, the 40 percent of Ohio graduates who take remediation courses upon arriving at college, and the whopping 68 percent of Ohio ACT takers who didn't meet the mark for college readiness last year, Ohio can’t afford to go backward. High standards, quality tests, and accountability are all key reforms that the Buckeye State must not eliminate—especially not for the sake of a politically motivated third attempt to repeal academic standards that have shown such promise.