School Districts Meet Challenges Of New Laws For Education

By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor

School districts in Ohio are facing a plethora of changes in laws when it comes to education. Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz gave members of the board of education an overview of changes and challenges.

"Ohio does not have the Common Core Standards," Ritz pointed out. "They have the Ohio Standard. There are a lot of states who wish to repeal the Common Core."

Ritz said the reason those states are reconsidering the Common Core Standards is because it takes away local control.

"And, it's against the Constitution of separation of the federal government and the state government," he pointed out. "The state governments have control over education, while the Common Core is a process that is nationwide, and it is really being pushed by the federal government.

"If you think about it as we sit in Ohio, it's probably not great," he added. "We are in a global economy. You want all of our kids to have a common understanding or a common standard. Most of our kids are going to compete in a global market, going to college or in the work process."

Most of the students who graduate from Willard High School will probably not stay in this area to get jobs, according to Ritz.

"One of our main focuses with that this year to get ready because this is a change in perception," he said.

In years past in high school, Ritz said the focus was on getting students "college ready" with college prep curriculums.

"Our teachers are experts in going to college," Ritz pointed out. "All of them went to college. They know what's going on. The whole shift in the standards is it's really career ready."

While employers know what they expect when they hire someone, Ritz said most teachers do not have an understanding on what it means to be "career ready."

On August 19, which is a waiver day and the day before the school year actually begins, Ritz said one half of the teachers are going to MTD and the other half to Pepperidge Farm. Then the groups will change venues.

"They are going to see and be talked to by their personnel managers and get to walk the floors and see what it takes to become career ready as far as they're concerned, Ritz said. "That will give them a better understanding of what this is."

The Common Core is in the process of being repealed or has been repealed in several states, including Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Missouri.

"There is legislation in Ohio to repeal it," Ritz pointed out. "Everything that I have heard is it's probably not going to go through, but it is out there."

House Bill 237 contains the legislation to repeal the Ohio Common Core, he noted.

"So, there are several states that are trying to repeal it, or there is a grassroots movement to repeal it," Ritz said. "The Ohio Standard, it just says that the state board has to adopt a statewide academic standard in English, language arts, math, science, social studies, technology, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. It's all preparing students for a career."

Ritz pointed out if a student decides to work in a factory or go to college, they will have a similar skill set for both options.

"That's what the Common Core is saying," he noted. "You have to be career ready. You have to have this skill set to go."

On the negative side, Ritz reiterated the lack of local control over education. There is also an extraordinary amount of testing that will go with this.

"You will hear the principals complain and the teachers complain, it's going to be no kid left untested," Ritz said. "You can pretty much figure from February almost all the way up to May, every week kids are going to be tested, whether it be the third graders or the 12th graders who will be tested."

The cost for testing becomes the responsibility of the local board of education, according to Ritz.

"What I mean by that is they're all going to be tested electronically over a computer system," he explained. "I sat with the state superintendent. His exact words were, 'You're going to have to test all these kids using computers or the Internet, and we're not paying for it. So figure it out.'"

Ritz said this is the reason he budgeted in approximately $100,000 every other year. One year, the district will buy a new bus. The next year that amount will go for the computers, and the money is rotated. "We are going to need computers that do nothing but test kids."

The computers will be used in the classrooms. "But, if we're not prepared for this, our kids won't be able to test," he pointed out.

There will be changes in testing, according to Ritz.

"Effective for students entering ninth grade on July 1, 2014, this year's freshman class, OGT (Ohio Graduation Test) may not be administered to first time test-takers," Ritz explained. "So, the freshman class will no longer have to take OGT's. The sophomore class, they are the last ones for OGT's."

The freshman class will take a college and work readiness assessment. Ritz said that will be in place of the OGT. Half of the college work ready assessment will be seven end-of-course exams.

"So, at the end of these courses, they have to take an exam," he explained. "The beauty of this whole thing is no one can tell you if they pass the class and fail the test, do they go on? Or, if they fail the class and pass the test, do they go on? Nobody knows the answer to that question."

"Schools are going to be judged on that," Ritz noted. "Now, it's looking like if a student does not get a two or a three on this test, then they get zero credits. So, they can theoretically take the whole class and get an 'A' in the class and not pass the test and theoretically have to repeat the class."

No one can give an answer to the question, Ritz said, because no decision has been made on how to answer that for this year's freshman class.

They have to take it in English nine and 10, he explained. Freshmen have to take it in physical science, which is their ninth grade year, algebra one which is their ninth grade year, geometry which is their sophomore year, American history and American government which is their freshman year and junior year.

"At the end of each of those courses, they have to take an end-of-course exam," Ritz said. "We don't pay for the end-of-course exams, but we have to pay for the technology to take the test."

The second half to this is the Nationally Standardized Assessment of Measures of College and Career Readiness. It will be given to 11th graders and will include components in English, math, science and social studies. It can also be an assessment used for college admission, which are generally known as the ACT's.

"So, basically, what the state is saying is every student from this freshman class forward will have to take the ACT's," Ritz stated. "We're going to be judged by the results of them, whether they pass or not.

"Again, they have not determined whether or not a student has to pass it," he noted. "They are requiring it for them to graduate."

Many students take the ACT's two or three times to try and better their scores, Ritz pointed out.

"What the state is saying is we'll pay for it the first time," he said. "The second time the kid has to pay for it. So, there is a benefit to a kid with that. Every kid now, instead of just those going to college, has got to take that test."

As he spoke to members of the board of education, he cautioned they that they will be asked those questions, and people will expect an answer as to why the changes.

"Your answer is going to be the federal government, this is the Common Core," he said. "That is part of the requirements of that.

"They are also changing the requirements for the GED," Ritz pointed out. "This part of it has not been finalized, but basically now, as the rule states now, any student who is 18 years old or older, and their class has graduated already, I can sign off for them to take the GED."

The change in the law, Ritz explained, is saying the state is aware there is a large number of drop outs. The new changes would let 16, 17 and 18 year olds take the GED without the district having any say, such as with a court order.

"The beauty of this is," Ritz noted cynically, "if they take the GED and pass it, which is the equivalent of a high school diploma, it counts as a drop out for us."

The Willard City Schools lose the $5,800 for that student from the state.

Also included in HB 487 is a requirement for boards of education making them the sole authority in selecting and determining textbooks, reading lists, instructional materials and academic curriculum for schools.

Every school board in the state must establish a parental advisory committee or another method of review to provide an opportunity for parents to review a selection of the books and materials used by the district.

"We did that," noted Ritz, "long ago. We have to make that now more vigilant. What we've done is for textbooks."

Using the example of a high school teacher who wants their student to read a novel, Ritz said. Anything done must be with board approval.

"The problem with that is more and more curriculum is getting to be online," he pointed out. "Our teachers are expected to go online to supplement their materials."

This, Ritz said, is like a Catch-22. Supplementing education has moved online, but the board of education is supposed to review the materials used in the curriculum.

"It's very difficult," he noted. "When you look at it you can see, for now, it is restricted to textbooks.

"The state is ultimately responsible for your standards and they will come up with another standard," Ritz said. "Math and English are used for the national Common Core standards. Social studies and science are used at the state. So, for Ohio, you are only talking about math and English that are used for national standards.

The federal government cannot force a state to do any of this," Ritz stated. What the federal government will do is use money to coerce states into following the federal guidelines.

"They are not forcing them," Ritz said. "They are saying if you want the money, here's what you have to do."

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