“Our Teachers and Students Are Exhausted…”

Deer Park City Schools Superintendent Jeff Langdon is one the leaders of the statewide initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in the Buckeye state.  With his permission, I would like to share his testimony to the Senate Education Committee on February 10 regarding student testing.

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Good afternoon Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Hite, and Ranking Member Sawyer, my name is Jeff Langdon, Superintendent of the Deer Park Community City School District located in Hamilton County, and I wish to thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on the subject of the assessments currently being used in our district.  Specifically, I would like to address how testing impacts our student population, parents and community members who make up Deer Park Community City Schools.

We are being challenged throughout the State of Ohio to be more innovative, creative and engaging.  It is my strong belief that educators are doing an outstanding job of answering that call – but the work is becoming nearly impossible.  This brief excerpt from the ODE web site is important:  Webster’s dictionary defines the word inspired as causing something to happen or be created.  The spirit of creativity is at the core of the $250 million Straight A Fund, launched in 2013 to spur innovation in Ohio’s classrooms.  As our youngest citizens enter school each day, we need to know they are forming the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in a 21st-century workplace that demands creativity and innovation.

I don’t think there is an educator in the State of Ohio, especially in my home District of Deer Park, who would argue with that statement.  However, I am deeply concerned – enough so to stand before you today – because it is humanly impossible to be innovative, creative, and engaging, let alone provide a world-class education system, under the current testing model being thrust upon educators and students.  There is just simply too much testing happening in our schools.  I say that not because we oppose accountability.  In fact, we understand that our constituents deserve to know how the students we serve are performing within our classrooms.  However, over the next few months, we will implement two testing windows in compliance with Ohio’s mandated student testing.  The mandate consists of 20 testing days per testing window for a total of 40 testing school days. As you can imagine, the personnel resources to “pull off” such an event are significant. The two testing windows will bring to a standstill all of the innovative, creative and engaging activities for our students.  Teachers are no longer teaching, counselors are no longer working to meet the needs of students – all instruction comes to a halt while everyone shifts into test administration mode.  My building principals and teachers do an outstanding job of doing their best to administer the tests with the least impact to instruction possible, but they are all deeply frustrated.  As their Superintendent and on behalf of our students, I stand before you today to ask for relief of such testing demands.

It is my recommendation that we move to a testing protocol that limits the amount of testing to one content area per grade level per school year.  By limiting the tests and assuming we receive the results in a timely manner, we will be able to analyze our curriculum weaknesses and strengths and use the data to inform instructional practices.  Isn’t this the true intent of any assessment? Limiting to one state mandated test will also allow us to reclaim many “testing days” and devote them back to our mission – innovative, creative and engaging instruction for our students!

It is also my recommendation that the Ohio Department of Education allow each alternative assessment taken by a student with a disability to be graded and count toward a district’s state indicator.  Currently, any alternative assessment over the 1% cap is automatically thrown out and the district suffers the consequences on their report card.  It is beyond my belief that this is really occurring under our current accountability structure.  Why are we not permitted to accurately report to our constituents the efforts of the students with disabilities on our report card?

My final recommendation is not to penalize school districts when a student with a disability defers their diploma.  Currently if a student with a disability defers their diploma, the school district is penalized on the District report card for not graduating that student within a 4 year time frame – even though the student will eventually graduate.  Once again, why are we not permitted to accurately report to our constituents the efforts of the students with disabilities on our report card?

In summary, I am here to advocate on behalf of the students, teachers, administrators and families of Deer Park Schools.  Our teachers and students are exhausted from the test prep and test anxiety.  Our parents are growing more and more frustrated.  The idea of having their children “Opt Out” of state mandated testing is becoming very prominent on Deer Park social media sites and I am fielding more and more “Opt Out” phone calls from parents every day.  To be very direct, parents have had enough of excessive, state-mandated testing and they want their children to receive an education that is innovative, creative and engaging, not one that requires them to take a barrage of assessments to appease state mandates.  I also urge you to lift the regulations that prevent school districts from being permitted to accurately report to their constituents the progress that students with disabilities are making.  To reiterate, we believe in accountability, but we believe in accountability that is accurate and precise, not accountability that hides the truth for different subgroups of our population.

Chair Lehner, thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony, and I will be happy to respond to any questions at the pleasure of the chair.

 

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