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Twinsburg school officials hope every district succeeds, but have concerns

State's draft of compliance with Every Student Succeeds falls short in flexibility, according to one

By APRIL HELMS Reporter Published: February 15, 2017 12:00 AM
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TWINSBURG -- The Ohio Department of Education's recently released draft on how it will implement the federal government's new criteria in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the controversial "No Child Left Behind," leaves many issues unresolved, said Twinsburg Superintendent Kathryn Powers.

The state's draft of compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act aims to guide student testing, course standards and other school-related issues. Twinsburg Board of Education President Mark Curtis said the act strives to include more flexibility than NCLB in how it meets federal education standards -- but falls short of doing so.

"The whole purpose was [that] it was supposed to provide states with some flexibility and control," Curtis said. "I'm a little troubled that Ohio, by and large, with the things we can do, has decided to stay the course. Not a lot has changed. This is not taking advantage of the flexibility offered."

Powers said she is frustrated by the proposal, saying the plan "wasn't well explained" and seemed to offer few solutions to the problems that have plagued NCLB.

"I was hoping there would be some relief from the amount of testing our students must undergo," Powers said. "This does not look like [it will be] the case, from what I've seen so far. Also, there is no change in how teachers would be evaluated. I'm all for accountability, but this has become more and more confusing because the data isn't well explained, even for school folks like me."

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Curtis said one example of the intransigence between federal ESSA standards and the state's compliance is how teachers are currently evaluated.

"Under ESSA, states don't have to do teacher evaluations," he said. "But Ohio has kept that [mandate]."

Powers agrees that standards are needed to hold school districts accountable, but "the state drastically changes and adds new criteria" frequently.

"I'm a bit frustrated by this new technical document," she said. "It leaves more questions than answers."

The 118-page report includes descriptions of the state's learning standards; an explanation of testing requirements; descriptions of the state's goals for student performance and improvement; outlines of how the state supports struggling schools and districts; and a review of report cards and other measures to inform about school progress.

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Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction, said the hope is that communities will review the plan, offer comments and continue to take part in the process to draft a final version, to be in place by the 2017-18 school year.

"They can give us feedback," he said. "If they've got strong opinions we want to hear them. We really want to hear from people so that we can process their input and have the absolute best plan possible going forward."

He added in a released statement, "We've already received many comments from Ohio's educators, parents and community members on the draft overview. With everyone's continued engagement, we'll make significant strides in improving opportunities and outcomes for students in our state."

Following the comment period, which runs through March 6, the state will forward the documents to federal officials in April for their review and final approval.

Federal law still requires accountability from states and local districts that public school students are being taught appropriately and being prepared for future college coursework and careers.

That means Ohio's new plan still requires testing in reading, mathematics, science and other standards, but the state will set those standards rather than being required to meet a plan mandated by the federal government.

Over the past year or so, the ODE has played host to hundreds of meetings, online surveys and other sessions to collect comments from teachers, parents and other community members, with upwards of 15,000 people involved in the process.

Curtis, however, said he wondered if the meetings and surveys had any impact on what the ODE drafted.

"I'm not sure the efforts to solicit feedback were sincere," Curtis said. "That's my first impression. [The draft] doesn't appear to respond to the concerns of parents, teachers and other stakeholders. If local control is truly the direction Ohio wants to head, this draft doesn't reflect that."

For details on the proposal or to give feedback, visit http://education.ohio.gov/.

Powers encouraged parents and residents in the Twinsburg School district to voice their concerns on the draft through the March 6 cutoff date.

"When parents are organized, things happen," she said.

Meanwhile, Powers said she and other superintendents in Summit County drafted a letter to send to the state airing their own concerns and suggestions about the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some suggestions included in the letter are that Ohio take advantage of the flexibility offered under ESSA to reduce testing, eliminating the letter grade reporting of school buildings and districts, emphasize early childhood education, and "eliminate the student growth measures from teacher and principal evaluations."

Editor's note: State Bureau Chief Marc Kovac contributed to this story.

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