Testimony to the Senate Education Committee

Vandalia-Butler City Schools Superintendent Brad Neavin 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 3.

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Good afternoon, Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Hite, and Ranking Member Sawyer.  My name is Brad Neavin, Superintendent of the Vandalia-Butler City School District in Montgomery County.  Go Aviators!  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 wish to address how testing impacts our District’s locally developed mission which is to “empower students with knowledge, creativity, and skills to enrich their families, communities, and careers.” 

It is my hope that my testimony will provide you with a glimpse of the perceptions of our community, our educators, and most importantly, our students.  And, I want to keep the focus of my concerns on the question of testing and not Common Core.  In fact, I think it is pertinent to mention that the frustrations we are experiencing are not as much about the standards, but rather the way they are being implemented and assessed.  To best inform you of our experience, I have asked my building principals and department directors to relay their issues through my voice in this testimony and the costs associated with the State testing model.  I offer this summary of their feedback:

First are the Costs of Time

  • Our building schedules will be altered for the equivalent of eight weeks this school year to accommodate the testing process. All instructional schedules, across all subject areas, will be changed to meet the testing requirements  
  • Hours of time in meetings and collaboration used to discuss standards have been lost to the urgent need to discuss test vocabulary, testing formats, and testing protocols. Discussions about teaching and learning have been trumped by topics of compliance and implementation requirements.
  • Administrators are now devoting their time to testing and testing issues rather than on instruction, intervention, collaboration, gifted education, special education, and data analysis, just to mention a few.
  • Invaluable teaching time has been lost as teachers are pulled from their classrooms to be trained as “test administrators”

Next are Financial Costs

  • We estimate the need for approximately 40 substitute teaching days. The substitute teachers will be used as test proctors and monitors at an estimated total cost of $3800; or the cost to employ a coordinator for our Planetarium – a position lost in recent dramatic cost reduction measures.
  • We have purchased 275 pairs of headphones for a total of approximately $2500; or the cost of to employ a National Honor Society Club Advisor at the High School and a Safety Patrol Coordinator at an Elementary School. Again, these are positions that have been lost to our district.
  • We have expenses associated with computer infrastructure upgrades solely for the purpose of test administration. A conservative estimate is that these costs are in excess of the cost of a teacher; in a district that has literally cut dozens of staff in the last few years leaving student/teacher ratios far above educationally acceptable levels.

There are Costs to our Staff

  • The new testing model requires a great deal of technical training in the new assessment methodologies. Confidence is low – not because of the new standards, but because of how they are being assessed and the limited time teachers have had to process the new implementations.  We are building the airplane as we are flying it.
  • The mandated testing has resulted in mandated “teaching.” Teaching time is “test” focused rather than “content” focused as teachers and students adjust to a new method of assessment
  • Even the most student-centered and gifted of educators must consider the impact of test results upon their individual evaluation. And, as they must grasp a new accountability model, they must also learn and become efficient in a new professional evaluation that can be quite confusing.

And finally, there are Costs to our Students

  • Students are bombarded with practice tests, sample test questions, test vocabulary, and lectures over testing procedures. These instructional practices are focused on test taking rather than content learning.
  • Our computer labs and media center will be closed for a period of 40 days to be used for the testing process making them unavailable for other instructional purposes.
  • As labs are being used for testing, students lose access to technology for research, projects, and authentic learning opportunities. Computer lab time, previously used to teach technology, is now being used to teach computerized test-taking skills.
  • Grouping of students for testing requires pull out from classes; classes that go on without them. At our high school, as an example, a particular class section will be missing one-third of its roster during each day of the testing.

These are just a few of the costs of implantation but of equal concern the question as to how this all benefits our students as we work towards our district mission and goals.  Throughout our community and throughout our state evidence clearly shows that our constituents are questioning the purpose of all of this testing.

In a January 2014 survey sponsored by the 16 superintendents of the Lorain County Schools, 

  • Two out of three respondents responded that they do not believe that increased state testing has helped students.
  • Less than one out of three felt that policy decisions made at the state level are in the best interests of students.

 To summarize a survey sponsored by the Montgomery County Superintendents in partnership with the Montgomery County Educational Service Center:

  • Preparing students for college/careers and having a comprehensive curriculum and electives are also important aspects of a high quality education.
  • A majority (56%) of total respondents do not think that increased state testing has helped students.
  • Fully 63% of respondents who would consider themselves well-informed about their schools say testing has not helped.
  • 81% of the respondents agreed that state policies are not in students’ best interest, and
  • 81% of respondents believe that performance ratings should be based on a variety of factors, while only 11% say they should be based solely on state test scores.

And finally, I want to share with you just one question and its results from a Statewide Survey conducted by Fallon Research in the fall of 2014:

To the question:  “Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with this statement:  Determining how much progress students are making toward meeting new state standards should be primarily the job of local school districts and their teacher, not the state…”

82% of the total surveyed and 84% of Public School Parents either strongly agree or agree that determining how much progress students are making toward meeting new state standards should be primarily the job of local school districts and their teacher and not the state.

I stand before you today proudly celebrating my 30th year as a public school educator in the State of Ohio.  In those years, I have been a Panther, a Ram, a Golden Eagle, a Fighting Eagle, and an Aviator. But, the proudest moniker that I have carried has been that of…. Teacher.  And it is on behalf of those teachers; over 107,000 of Ohio’s finest  … and most importantly…. the 1.7 million public school students  across our great state, I ask you to place a moratorium on the testing for the purpose of ranking and sorting of schools, students, and teachers.    Give us the standards, give us the time for appropriate implementation, and allow us to use the assessments to move forward on our collective academic goals.

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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