Encouraging Parents to Contact Their Legislators

The statewide initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in the Buckeye state continues to grow.  In a recent email blast to parents, Avon Lake City Schools Superintendent Bob Scott explained that he recognizes the need for assessments and accountability and knows that it is important for families and community members to have information about how their schools are performing:  “However, Ohio is currently struggling to find the right balance.  Like many of you, I think we need a more balanced approach to improving accountability and equity.  Today, there is simply too much state testing.  That’s why I’ve been recommending (and will continue to strongly advocate) that Ohio reduce the subjects being tested at each grade level.  The state tests do not improve student learning and instruction.  Instead, we use our own local assessments to monitor student progress and modify instruction when data show we have areas for improvement.”  In his letter, Bob also encouraged parents to help deliver the message that it is time for a more balanced approach to assessments – that our children need testing relief and local school systems need the flexibility to decide which and how many assessments are right for our students.  He asked parents to consider communicating directly with the Ohio Board of Education members, House and Senate Education Committee members and ranking legislators about the need to make changes in the overall amount of state testing that is required.  Below is how one parent responded:

Dear Senator Manning,

I live in the quiet town of Avon Lake, Ohio.  Our school district is ranked tops in the State of Ohio.  We routinely score well in standardized tests.  Our teachers and staff in this school district are amazing, inspiring role models for our children.  Yet with all of these accolades our children and teachers are stretched beyond their limits because of State mandated testing.

Schools are encouraged, nay forced, to teach our children to perform well on tests with little classroom instruction towards critical thinking or the skills for performing well in life.  Unfortunately the performance of students, schools, and teachers is determined by standardized testing.  Standardized testing has become the bedrock to measure and evaluate performance.  The way standardized testing is used on the State and National level paints an inaccurate picture of student performance as well as teacher performance.

Standardized tests alone are not an authentic assessment of learning.  Suppose you are heading to your doctor for your annual health assessment.  The month before you go you make certain lifestyle changes because you are overweight and your insurance company mandates a certain healthy weight to which you and your doctor are held accountable.  In order to hit the mark for your weight target you engage in unhealthy habits such as taking diet pills, or you engage in dangerous unhealthy behavior such as purging or other eating disorders.  As a result, on “test day” you have achieved the benchmark of health.  When in reality you are dangerously unhealthy, even more so than before you began to change your less harmful lifestyle.  But the problem herein is that your doctor is paid according to how many of his patients weighed in at the target weight.  The punishment for both doctor and patient is in the choosing of one narrow measurement by the insurance company that does not aid in the attainment of good health.  It is, in fact, detrimental to it.  So how is it beneficial to our students, schools, and teachers to prepare for a test that does not authentically evaluate learning or teacher performance?

All research supports the danger of this approach.  On standardized tests all test takers answer the same questions under same conditions usually in a multiple-choice format.  These tests reward quick answers to superficial questions.  They do not measure accurately critical or creative thinking.  It encourages outdated methods of instruction as well as a decline in learning and grade retention.  Are there better ways we can evaluate student achievement and ability?  Of course!  Through teacher observation, documentation of student work, and performance-based assessment all of which involve the direct evaluation of real learning, provide useful material to teachers, parents, and the public.  Why would you, our State lawmakers on education evaluate our children, schools, and teachers in this manner when it is proven that this “health assessment” of them does not work?

The harmful effects to education are compounded tenfold by making tests “high stakes” and is counterproductive to excellence in education.   The Educational Testing Service’s Policy Information Center has stated, “Value Added Measure results should not serve as the sole or principal basis for making consequential decisions about teachers.”  Standardized testing should not in any form or circumstance be used as a basis for teacher evaluation.  It is an unproven method of evaluation.  This method of teacher evaluation is harmful at all levels of education.  It harms school districts, it harms teachers, and most importantly it harms student learning.  An approach to education, such as this, forces teachers to “teach to the test” and alter their curriculum rather than develop critical thinking and deep conceptual understanding in the classroom. There is no gain in long-term learning.

The adverse effects of dependence on standardized testing have been documented.  For example: the slow-down in math (especially in grade 4) was pronounced, the rate of gain slowed even more after 2007, in three of four grades/tests the scores for students with disabilities flattened or declined.  As a former Special Education Paraprofessional this is appalling.  You can see the proof here http://www.fairtest.org/independent-test-results-show-nclb-fails.  These few facts are only some of the negative results of standardized testing.

It’s mind-boggling how the State of Ohio has failed our students and schools.  As a member of this community, a citizen of the State of Ohio, and as a mother, I implore you, to find a solution to standardized testing that will better our students, teachers, and school districts.  I beseech you to grant our teachers a chance to make an impact on the long-term learning of our students without the constraint of unrealistic and ineffective standardized testing.

As said by my youngest daughter Rachel’s 6th grade math teacher, Scott Giomini, “In the relentless pursuit of education.”

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