UL board gets testing preview

BELMONT-Union Local school board members got a preview of the next testing formats for grades 3 through 8 at Thursday night’s meeting. Jayme Yonak, curriculum coordinator for Union Local through the East Central Ohio Educational Service Center, presented examples and explanations of questions on a middle school test that will begin next school year. Yonak is a former principal at Union Local Middle School.

State tests will be based on new “common standards” that will standardize core education across state boundaries. In Ohio there will be two types of tests over two testing periods. The first, the Performance Based Assessment, will be given in March (beginning in 2015) and involves critical thinking, computer skills and analyzing. Students will need to read text, answer multiple questions about the text, identify concepts, find supporting evidence for the answers and drag-and-drop answers into specific areas on the screen. Writing skills will also become important as students explain and defend their answers in essay questions. Tests will incorporate videos for some of the questions. Yonak said children will need to “multi-task” to be successful on the tests.

In addition to the English Language Arts (ELA) and math tests for grades 3 through 8, fourth and sixth graders will be taking Social Studies tests, and fifth and eighth graders will take science tests. In May, the End of Year (EOY) tests will be given to students and are similar to what they are taking now.

“We’re trying to prepare for what’s to come,” explains Yonak. “This is a significant jump from what they are doing now. The teachers have been working very hard to get the students ready.”

Board member Dan Lucas asked about what could happen if the students don’t do well because of the changes in format. Yonak replied that, because of the state’s “Third Grade Guarantee” in the reading program, if a third grader doesn’t pass the reading test, he will not go on to the fourth grade. She added that poor test scores will hurt the school because the state will issue more (unfunded) mandates, which will mean additional time and extra work for students and teachers.

She said that on the plus side, Union Local has a new math curriculum that is aligned with the new common core in the middle school and for high school algebra 1 and 2 and geometry.

Yonak again mentioned the “hard working, dedicated teachers” who are utilizing online tools and websites to get students accustomed to the formats. In the classroom, teachers visit nestgen.apps.sparcc.org, and parents and students can preview questions and the format at parcconline.org.

Another presentation related to gas and oil drilling could mean additional revenue for the district. Erik Parker, of WellRevOhio LLC (www.wellrevohio.com,) has been studying a new issue regarding placement of horizontal fracking wells and tax revenue. Traditional wells have been drilled vertically and don’t cross property, district or county borders. Energy companies file production information with the county auditor in the well head location’s county.

However, horizontal drilling wells can span up to 1,200 acres in opposite directions. Therefore, according to Parker, school districts can benefit because they receive a percentage of production revenue even if the well head is located outside of their district. Ohio does not yet have a mechanism in place for monitoring location and production and making sure that the production is reported to all counties involved rather than that of the well head location.

In the Union Local district, Parker has noted four or five wells that could provide regular income through the current system if someone could advocate on the district’s behalf. In his work with Stark and Holmes counties, he has developed a service that Union Local could hire for keeping track of wells, their production and their potential. Members are considering his proposal.

Superintendent Doug Thoburn and board president Dean Lancaster brought up the income tax issue for May’s ballot. The board is recruiting committee members and has designed an informational brochure. They are already scheduling speaking engagements for local groups to explain the necessity and structure of the tax.

Board member Billy Porter wanted to recognize the boys’ basketball team and coaches who won 20 straight games and are ranked third in the state. He noted that they broke at least two OVAC records and commended them for “playing as a team” and being “unselfish” and showing sportsmanship. School board members were disappointed in the lack of media coverage for the team, saying that the team’s performance and efforts warranted more attention.

The Union Local Board of Education meets the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. in the high school library.

Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.