More Superintendents Say State Testing System Flawed

The following article appeared in the September 16 issue of the Kenton Times:

Superintendents say state testing program ‘is a flawed system”

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released its annual report card on the state’s school systems on Thursday morning, but Hardin County’s educational leaders said the public should reject the findings and support their efforts to localize the reports.

The Times met with Ridgemont Superintendent Emmy Beeson and Hardin Northern Superintendent Jeff Priceon Wednesday as they represented all five county school systems and Riverdale in a discussion about the report that was released Thursday.

Kenton, Hardin Northern, Ada, Ridgemont, Upper Scioto Valley and Riverdale are all members of the Northwest West Central Ohio Public School Advocacy Network, a group of districts which are letting their voices being heard that the current system does not work. They are sending their concerns with the testing system and its impact on the education of students to the Ohio legislature in encouraging them to support the new federal educational program, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which has replaced No Child Left Behind.

The call, said Beeson, is to go back to the federal standards and abandon the more stringent Ohio requirements for testing. The federal regulations require students to be tested for reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

The state has adopted a program which has changed three times over the past three years, she said. It requires K-3 students to be tested in literacy, grades 5-8 to be tested in reading, math, science and social studies, followed by multiple end-of-course exams in high school. Ohio also requires each student to take an ACT test or two other options later this school year.

The tests have taken over the school days, Price and Beeson said.

“It is a flawed system,” Price said. “It hasn’t worked in 20 years of testing. The state hasn’t seen the results it wanted to see, so they do more testing to get better production. They could test every day and not get better production.”

The additional testing has resulted in there being less and less time for teachers to instruct students on things that don’t appear on the test, said Beeson. The decisions are being made in a cookie-cutting, one-size-fits-all manner, she said.

“One size for everyone doesn’t make sense for us,” Beeson said. “It is frustrating. Ridgemont had its best report card ever last year. This year will be our worst. We didn’t change. The test changed. Our teachers continue to get better and better. Our kids didn’t stop learning.”

While she told her staff last year not to celebrate their good results on the grade card report, she is telling them this year not to beat themselves up because the numbers are not as good, Beeson said.

The results of the report card can be misleading to the public, said Price. His district has earned low marks on the K-3 literacy component of the report and is expected to do so again this year. Hardin Northern was given a “D,” yet no third grade student has ever failed to pass the literacy test, said Price.

By reducing the time devoted to memorizing answers on a test, he said, students should be exposed to more creative thinking which will serve them better in life no matter what professional path they pursue.

“We are not asking students to create. We are not asking them to think,” he said.

He has developed a grade card unique to the needs of Hardin Northern and plans to have a science fair and spelling bee this year. Such programs are difficult with the current system, said Beeson, who encourages service learning and problem-based learning at Ridgemont.

“The way things are now, every moment of every day is scripted by the state,” she said. “We need to pull back on things and give more control to our local school boards instead of people 100 miles away.”

“The lawmakers had the best intentions for our students,” added Price. “They obviously believe in the system we have. We disagree with the course they are taking. The course they are taking forces us to do the same thing over and over and we are not seeing any significant increase. They are missing the mark of what we really need.”

“We should be teaching students how to learn,” said Beeson. “When we fail, we learn from that. If we are trained to get the right answer the first time we try, that is not how we learn. We learn from messing up.”

The Hardin County leaders are not alone in their frustration with the current system, said Beeson. She said another 150-200 districts are expected to join the movement to make changes at the state level.

Many are turning to “quality profiles” for their districts which measure and define local success.

“We are saying these things are more important to us than a state report card,” Beeson said.

By Dan Robinson, Times Staff Writer

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