High-stakes testing drives earlier school start in Kettering

Photo Illistration by Sam Barton
Students and staff alike have to adjust to the shift in testing for this coming year.

Photo Illistration by Sam Barton Students and staff alike have to adjust to the shift in testing for this coming year.

The 2012-13 school year for the Kettering City School District started Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than it did in 2010. And although the early start ended students’ (and staff members’) summers earlier than they may have liked, district administrators feel there is good reason for the change.

Dr. Jim Schoenlein, Kettering’s superintendent, says the district decided upon this schedule change two years ago in order to prepare students for tests they have to take in the spring – tests that include the OGT, ACT and SAT, as well as the AP and IB tests. “Many of these tests have big scholarship money tied to them,” Schoenlein said. “And our students will have a full two weeks extra to prepare for the state Report Card tests, which should cause better test scores.”

The superintendent hopes the better test scores will have a positive domino effect. “Better test scores will cause the community to think better of our schools, which should cause them to vote for our levies, which will mean more teachers and resources for students,” he said.

Fairmont senior Derick Daniels feels the chances of passing the OGT (Ohio Graduation Test) are higher if students have more time to put into learning the information needed. “A little time can go a long way,” he said. “Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but a lot can be done in two weeks.” Daniels said he thinks his test scores would have been better if he had had the extra two weeks.

Senior Kim Bentley agrees that more time for reviewing the information would be nice, even with the outstanding scores Fairmont currently has. “It really doesn’t hurt to be over-prepared, rather than to not have enough preparation.”

The current senior class set an all-time school record for their scores on the OGT, and the following year, the Class of 2014 beat that record and set one of their own. Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf expects the same great results from the current sophomore and freshman classes. “The senior and junior class achieved huge accomplishments, and the sophomores know I’m expecting the same results from them,” he said.

Effects on students

This schedule change is “a good, positive move that will benefit the district and the kids,” Schoenlein said. “I don’t see us going back unless or until the whole testing landscape changes.”

As a result, students at Fairmont and all over the Kettering district are going to have to learn to adjust to the mid-August start date. Not every student is against the change, however.

Daniels thinks it’s a good move on the school’s part. “It’s a good educational decision. Students may not like it, but it will be helpful, in my opinion,” he said. “The more time applied to education, the better. I think it will be a good thing for all age levels.”

Another direct effect the schedule change will have on Fairmont students concerns the semester break. The early start means the last day of first semester will also be the last day before winter break. In the past, the first semester has ended around the second week in January.

The old schedule allowed students to use the two-week break to study and review the material they learned over the semester and prepare for the exam. That won’t be possible now.

Losing the two weeks off before exams isn’t a big deal for Daniels. “During breaks, are people going to be studying? Probably not,” he said. “So, having exams beforehand also leaves you with less to worry about over break, which allows you to enjoy yourself more.”

Daniels admits to forgetting important information over the break, and he feels that exams happening before break will benefit not only him, but other students.

VonHandorf agrees with Daniels that having exams before break benefits students by giving them more time to spend time with their families, but it also negatively affects the students who use winter break to their advantage. “Some students actually do study over winter break,” said VonHandorf. “So they are losing the extra two weeks they had to prepare and look over course material.”

However, VonHandorf says that’s one of the few negatives he sees in the schedule change. The only other negatives he sees center around what students lose over summer break, like having to leave summer jobs early and not being able to spend as much time in the swimming pool.

Schoenlein noted another group that might not be fond of the schedule change. “Summer businesses like Kings Island are not happy about earlier school starts,” he said.

On the other hand, VonHandorf says the change will help Fairmont align with the schedules of many colleges in Ohio. Recently, a lot of Ohio colleges, including Sinclair Community College, transitioned to semesters instead of quarters. “This change helps our early grads,” said VonHandorf, “because last year, Sinclair’s winter classes started before our early grads got out of high school, so they were stuck waiting until the spring to start.”

Overall, VonHandorf believes this schedule change is mostly positive. “The positives far outweigh the negatives,” he said.

And despite the district’s already excellent test score results, Schoenlein feels there’s always room to get better. “Would you think I was doing my job if I thought, ‘Well, we are doing just fine now, no need to consider any improvements’?” he asked.