- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - State senators unanimously passed a measure Wednesday aimed at protecting Ohio students from unintended consequences of new proficiency tests being rolled out this school year.

The bill would bar schools from using results from the increasingly criticized tests to determine a student’s advancement to the next grade level or in course credit decisions. An exception is made for English language arts tests used in meeting Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee.

Schools also could not release scores to outside sources without parental consent under the bill.

The measure comes as a growing number of parents are letting kids skip the mandated assessments amid complaints that new testing linked to the Common Core standards is too time-consuming and that the preparation distracts from deeper learning.

The House passed an earlier version of the bill and must agree to the Senate’s changes before the measure could go to the governor.

Senators announced Wednesday they would create an advisory committee on testing, comprised of various educational experts from across the state, to make recommendations to the Senate on state-required assessments.

“We hear the anxiety and confusion the new state tests have created for students, their families and teachers,” Sen. Peggy Lehner, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement.

Senators amended the bill to ensure that schools do not lose state aid for students not taking standardized tests this school year.

That’s in line with what the state’s superintendent told districts in a letter on Tuesday.

By law, the Ohio Department of Education is supposed to withhold funding for students who don’t take the tests, but the superintendent is allowed to issue a waiver so schools can get the money. Superintendent Richard Ross has indicated that is what he will do.

Still, he stressed to districts the importance of testing.

“I hope you will explain this critical relationship between testing and teaching to the parents of your communities and encourage them, as much as you are able, to allow their students to take Ohio’s New State Tests,” Ross wrote.

The state does not yet have a tally of how many students are skipping the standardized exams.

In some districts, the numbers are in the hundreds. Superintendent Mark Neal of Tri-Valley schools in Muskingum County, where the number of opt-outs topped 460, told The Columbus Dispatch more than half of the district’s middle-school students were skipping tests.

While assuring them that state funding would be provided, Ross noted that some schools could have federal funding restricted if they don’t meet certain requirements under federal law, such as having at least 95 percent of students at a school take the tests.

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