School board discusses state testing in light of possible student protest

By: Melanie Williamson

At the Monday, May 1, special school board meeting, board member Michael Stark brought it to the board’s attention that there are students attempting to organize a group to protest state testing at the next regular board meeting. Although not on the original agenda and not something the board has direct control over, they decided to briefly discuss the matter.

Superintendent Phil Pempin started the discussion by stated that they do not disagree with the students. There are a lot of tests and they are very stressful due to the amount of pressure put on both the teachers and the students to pass the tests. Pempin stated that the state has created a testing system that puts a great deal of stock on these tests that are taken one day and only reflect one moment in time.

In November 2016, superintendent Pempin joined superintendents, administrators, and teachers from all over the state in Columbus, to protest at the state board of education regarding state testing and the system in which the state uses those test scores to grade districts. At that time and again at the special board meeting, Pempin stated that he agrees there needs to be accountability in education, but basing that solely on the tests scores is not benefiting anyone.

Pempin stated, “teaching can be more than what it is if it weren’t for the tests.” He went on to assert that creativity is being squashed because teachers feel pressure to teach for the tests. He suggested that as far as the need for accountability, it should be based on a portfolio of standards, opposed to a single grade.

He also made reference to the benefits of the MAP testing, which is conducted three times throughout the year to provide students, teachers, and parents with an overview of the progress the student is making throughout the year. Teachers are able to use the MAP tests to gauge where each student may need extra help or focus. They can also be used to show students how they are progressing and give the students individual goals to work towards. Pempin stated that MAP testing “provides continuous assessment, which is what makes sense.”

Pempin also shared with the board that he has been discussing the issue further with assistant superintendent Jim Balotta. The district could simply refuse to take the state tests, but Pempin stated that there are unknown risks with that approach. They are not sure how the state would react and the concern is that the state may pull funding to the district.

Another option that Pempin stated he has discussed with Balotta is revamping how teachers are evaluated within the district. They could simply tell teachers to stop focusing on the test; to not even discuss the state tests at all. The teachers would be told to just teach their subjects the way they want to teach them emphasizing individual and project-based learning. They could completely de-emphasize state testing.

Pempin went on to say that this approach would have to be more than just telling teachers not to worry about it. They would have to discuss it with the Vermilion Teachers Association (VTA) and create a clear and structured plan for teacher evaluations that is not based on test scores.

Although the district as a whole is currently evaluated based on these test scores, there is an overall belief that de-emphasizing the tests would not negatively impact the results and may even improve them. Board member Chris Habermehl stated that there probably wouldn’t be a significant change in the overall scores.

Board member Sara Stepp echoed his sentiment and stated further that the scores might even improve if they take the stress of the testing off the students and the teachers. Superintendent Pempin agreed stated that if the teachers know the board supports them, they would be free to really get back to why they became teachers in the first place and teach instead of worrying about the state test scores.

Moving the discussion back to the possible student protest, superintendent Pempin stated that the students are welcome to come to the next meeting and be heard. He went on to say there is clearly student unrest and rightfully so. He stated to the board that they can discuss this more later and figure out what the board can do and what the district can do.

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