January 25th, 2015

Dear Ohio Department of Education, Berea School Board Members, Superintendent Sheppard, & Principal Grimm,

My sons have been in Berea City Schools since we moved here almost 15 years ago. I chose this community, in part, because I perceived the community as diverse and progressive in addition to having a reputable school system that celebrated the arts and seemed to have a “whole child” approach to educating. Although I still believe in public education, the current trends mandated by politicians and promoted by wealthy capitalists who have no background in education or knowledge of current research that outlines best educational practices are destroying our children’s curiosities and love for learning. Simultaneously, these mandates are sending a message to current and preservice teachers that the profession is nothing but a conglomerate of robots who need to be fed information to spew at students. And these students must be perceived by these ignorant reformers as a collection of identical mini robots that will easily absorb this information being emitted, rather than allowing educators to cultivate students’ minds utilizing the knowledge and expertise that teachers bring to classrooms from their extensive education and experience. Not only is it egregious and morally unethical to continue enforcing high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations under a guise of accountability, but it is the exact opposite of how top performing countries approach educating their youth.

Below is the test schedule for 4th graders in our district:

Fall, Winter & Spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Gr. 1: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 2: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 3: Reading & Math Gr. 4: Reading & Math Grades 1-4

Fall, Winter & Spring Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) Kdg.: Fall, Winter & Spring (all) Gr. 1: Fall (all), Spring & Winter (targeted) Gr. 2: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 3: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 4: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Grades K-4

Nov. 10-14, 2014 Iowa Assessments (IA) (Complete Battery; achievement assessment)Grade 4

Feb. 16 – Mar. 6,  2015 Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 3: English Language Arts – dropped       Math (2/23-24) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (2/18, 19, 20)     Math (2/25-26)

Mar. 2 – Mar. 13,2015 Next Generation Assessments [ODE] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 4: Social Studies (3/4)

Apr. 13 – May 1,2015¹ Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (End-of-Year Exams) Math (4/14 & 16) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (4/20)  Math (4/22 & 23) Grades 3-4

If my 4th grade son was an English Language Learner (ELL) or had Cognitive Disabilities (CD), he would have even more tests scheduled.This list doesn’t include assessments that are teacher-generated such as spelling or math tests which might cover material learned each week in class. Nor does it cover practice tests given during class in order to prepare students for the high stakes tests. Making this testing craze even more reprehensible is the fact that scores from non-classroom generated tests are used to evaluate the effectiveness of educators in classrooms. Do teachers even have time to actually offer meaningful instruction to students when so many of their minutes are stolen by standardized tests that mathematical analysis and metrics have shown fail to meet standards for test validity? Researchers know that 80% of how a student performs academically is due to family, environmental, and health factors beyond a teacher’s control, yet half or more of their performance as educators is based on that faulty data. Could it be any wonder why half of new educators leave the profession within their first five years of teaching? As a principal in Finland stated “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”   My sons and their teachers deserve better. Our city, state, and country deserve better.

My son, Julian Svigelj-Smith, is in 4th grade for the 2014-2015 school year at Grindstone Elementary. This letter is to inform you that I refuse to have my child take part in the OAA’s,  PARCC, or any other forms of high stakes standardized testing. I have been advised that my spiritual and psychological concerns meet the criteria for honoring my request. In lieu of the high stakes standardized tests I request that my child be given alternative forms of assessment to include, but not limited to, teacher made assessments, projects, and/or portfolio, etc., to be determined at the discretion of Julian’s teachers, who are the educational professionals with the education, experience, and expertise to provide the best educational environment for my child. There is no current state law in Ohio that requires my child to take these tests, and my child cannot be retained or punished in 4th grade as a result of refusing to complete these tests. Over a decade of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from the University of Pennsylvania to Harvard conclusively prove that high stakes testing like the “3rd Grade Reading Guarantee” harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society — children with special needs and children in poverty. It also contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline that is most likely to harm students who are already fraught with disadvantages.

Additionally, achievement goals for teachers and students are arbitrary without regard for students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.The metrics are designed to place all non-school achievement variables on the teacher and is not a valid reflection of my child’s abilities. This goes to the heart of pseudo accountability and the metrics machine that perpetuates the system of false claims and lies about public schools and their students and teachers. This high stakes testing approach also goes to the heart of the validity problem with standardized tests for students and teachers, which measure the historical effect of the living conditions of the student, not the teacher effects. The entire section of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) dealing with student growth measures is 100 percent indefensible from a mathematical and psychometric perspective. I am a certified OTES evaluator for the state of Ohio, and I recognize this blatant disconnect between reality and the data produced by standardized tests and subjective evaluative professional domains. The high stakes tests nor the dozens of OTES components truly measure the long hours and emotionally exhausting efforts by Ms. Prohaska that have reignited a love for school in my son that 3rd grade reading guarantee demands nearly destroyed in him less than a year ago. Her integration of  current and substantial research into her classroom that includes, movement, competition, tactile activities, rewards, and a classroom that nurtures the social and emotional development of the students she obviously adores, will never be fairly evaluated in a system that emphasizes standardized test scores and factors that are a result of the students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom and this federal law supersedes state laws in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

High stakes tests are harmful to my child and all children socially, emotionally and physically, and diminish opportunities for educational equity in public schools where my sons have been guaranteed the right to a quality education.  As a mother and educator, I find it difficult to believe that any of us entered the field of education or became parents so that we could harm children. Yet we have allowed politicians and wealthy elitist capitalists to try to force us to do just that. I present this letter to you not only to make certain that my son is not participating in the travesty that is PARCC, OAA, or any other invalid test taking, but also as an invitation to be part of a movement for justice, equity, and intelligently designed education. A crusade to meet the potential that public education holds can reclaim the joy of learning for our young people through what is research proven, will stop arbitrary unfounded evaluations of educators, and introduce equity and intelligent design to education in America. Advocates for quality education for all students regardless of income, race, gender, ethnicity, ability, or geography cannot remain bystanders while others continually produce mandates that injure children. If our oblivious, discriminatory, and unenlightened state board of education refuses to begin advocating for the students that it is supposed to be protecting, then it is up to parents, local school boards and their employees, and community stakeholders to stand for what is right. If we are not going to become part of the solution, then we remain part of the problem.


Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith

On February 4, 2015 Ohio’s Department of Education published “Information on Student Participation in State Tests.”  Although there are severe consequences mandated by Ohio (passing high stakes standardized tests are not part of graduation requirements in all states) that could impede a student’s ability to graduate or advance to the next grade level if a student does not pass a test, these harsh consequences are limited to 3rd grade and high school at this point. Opt out groups typically do not recommend opting students out of tests that will hinder their ability to make progress in school or graduate. However, the rest of the “Information” published by Ohio’s Department of Education is part propaganda and a partial attempt at a scare tactic so that families will stop refusing to allow their students to participate in these tests that fail to meet mathematical standards for test validity. According to Dr. Randy Hoover (2014) “Test validity is only meaningful in terms of how the test is used and what it is used for.  In other words, test validity is a formal examination to determine the degree to which a test is appropriate and accurate in serving what it is used for. Formal examination reveals that the assumption of Ohio’s tests being valid is false.” 

Before learning about this latest publication from the Ohio Department of Education, I published a blog post last night about the high cost of high stakes testing. Do not let anyone intimidate you about choosing to do what is right for your child and the future of education in our cities, state, and country. There wouldn’t be a need for this latest “Information” from the state if they were not getting anxious about families speaking out and taking a stand. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

22 thoughts on “My Sons and Their Teachers Deserve Better: An Open Letter to School & District Administrators

  1. Melissa, I am so proud to know an individual with truth of expression and the ability to impart an important lesson so eloquently. I have a very difficult time with these standards as well; since I am retired, my concern is still burning bright for the freedom of all teachers to enlighten the curiosity, turn on the questioning, bring the learning alive for students. I encourage your quest for the true education of future leaders of our nation! Nancy A. Simon


  2. You are so completely spot on, and this letter is most inspiring! I am not a parent, but I work daily as a representative of educators, and I am truly moved by your eloquent and intelligent passion. I will be sharing this letter with others. Thank you.


  3. Thank you for publicizing your letter with important info for all of us to see and use in our own districts. I live in a neighboring district and the superintendent has already stated he feels the states failed and the Feds must take over education. Local curriculum issues are a constant battle with this one as his mindset is not where it needs to be. Thanks again for your info.


  4. As a retired teach, I say, “Right on! More parents need to use your letter as a model to help right the educational process going on in our state and nation. Education must remain free to all citizens’ children so that it remains a stronghold for democracy, not a brainwashing, for profit operation for the wealthy 1%.


  5. I so totally agree!! Tell the politicians to keep their sneaky politics and privatizing to the 1% and leave our teachers and children alone!!


  6. Melissa-
    A few days ago, I sent my letter of resignation to Akron Public Schools. I spent hours contemplating my decision. I taught at a poverty stricken school. I had to learn the environment and the hidden rules to survive as a teacher there. I took the time to get to know my students, spent time talking to them and understanding the world they came from…the things I heard often brought me to tears. The struggle for survival, many one parent households, moms working two or three jobs and leaving older siblings to care for the younger ones…drugs, violence, and abuse…all factors that contributed to their overall school success or failure. I was a good teacher, actually I was a GREAT teacher and I say that not to brag about myself, but to highlight the fact that I USED to enjoy my job; I love the kids, and the successes many of them experienced overall in my class were far superior than what they could do on any standardized test. They produced real world projects, created visual presentations for the mayor about social issues And developed their own social issue organizations. They were amazing! And they loved the learning that went on…but month after month a new set of tests were presented before us as educators…and I was forced to stand there and watch as they struggled to read text from a computer screen after I had spent countless lessons teaching them to “Dissect text” to gain understanding. They could not write or make notes on their screen…some computers shut kids out in the middle of the test and we could not log them back in! They were stressed; I was stressed and for what? To never get the test they took back to see the mistakes? How can they improve if they don’t know where they messed up? And it’s not like this happened once: we spent 19 days last year giving standardized test, either district or state mandated. I was forced to do resident educator, despite the fact I had a masters degree, wrote a reading program for struggling readers that was implemented into the district with an 87% success rate, lead countless professional development opportunities for other educators on implementing learning centers which included real world learning and differentiation that kids actually ENJOYED doing! Yet my OTES EVAL would say that I may not be a qualified teacher based on the overall data from these rediculous tests! What about The computers that logged kids off? Or the lack of time to get all students onto working laptops? The students had been taught to “Dissect” text-make notes, circle unknown vocab, write a quick summary statement at the end of each paragraph, but on these tests they could NOT do any of that! The students in my class made a great deal of growth- AND I CAN PROVE IT! I can prove it with their projects, presentations, brochure creations, digital story books, animoto presentations, essays, journal writing responses…and so much more. But the state, or the district for that matter, can’t look past the data. Yet, they know I’m a great teacher because they sat in my classroom, saw our projects and presentations, asked me to lead multiple professional developments…the extra hours I spent on OTES LESSONS, resident educator, planning a 21st century educational experience for my students, planning and delivering the professional development opportunities, viewing and critiquing projects, presentations, helping kids after school…Etc exceeded regular teaching hours by far. I missed my own kids’ sports games, award ceremonies, conferences while I was overloaded with way too much on my plate and not enough time to do it all-mainly because of the extra expectations and standards placed on teachers due to this reform. I never went to bed before 1:00am last school year-trying to deliver the very best 21st century education to my kids, Makkng sure I gave the feedback I needed on work or projects, creating digital agendas on our class website-editing videos….as you can tell, I could go on and on. Yet I may be told I am not a qualified teacher based on test data?!?! My family saw me struggle, the stress was overwhelming and I was forced to make s decision: I am a great teacher and my students learned an incredible amount of everything-LANGUAGE ARTS, TECHNOLOGY, PUBLIC SPEAKING, CRITICAL THINKING, BEHAVIOR STANDARDS, LIFE RELEVENT SKILLS LIKE PROFESSIONALISM, CAREER EXPLORATION, DEEP, EMOTIONAL LIFE DISCUSSIONS AND POETRY BOOKS CAME FROM MY KIDS, but I will not be teaching them anymore; my family, my sanity, my belief that this is not the way to educate children, as well as two herniated discs were key reasons I had to resign. And it’s heart wrenching because I LOVE those kids and they love me. And they learned from me too. People like us will continue to leave education as long as this “reform” continues to take place. I want to copy parts of your letter of permitted and use for my own 5 children: to fight the fight that this is NOT the way to reform education. I want to stand up for my child’s rights! Thank you for this letter!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome letter! I am a teacher in a neighboring district, and my children attend school in Medina county. With your permission and/or assistance, I would like to construct a form letter borrowing from your citations and wording that all parents could utilize in order to also opt their student(s) out of this ridiculousness.


  8. Hi Melissa,
    My daughter is in your son’s class. Might I have your permission to share this wonderfully-crafted letter with my (future) sister-in-law, who works for Congressman Tim Ryan? Maybe we can get some extra support.


  9. Thank you for your thoughts!!! Being a teacher was all I’ve wanted to do since I was in 2nd grade. Loved it in college. Loved it in my early career. Now that I’m 13 years in and this year has brought me to tears many times. I have had hyperventilating attacks before school, and I want to get as far away from the profession as possible. It sickens me to feel this way about something I once loved and wanted to do forever. The only time I feel better is when I see my students’ smiling faces and can work with them on meaningful things. This testing is unfair for teachers and students. It pains me to know very soon that my students and my son are going to have to sit for 6 hours plus and take tests!!! Outrageous!!! I could be using that time to teach them great things!! And, while they test I am not allowed to do ANYTHING! I have to sit and stare. No grading papers. No reading. Not because I need to be attentive in case my students need something, because I’m not even allowed to walk on the side where I can see their screens. So basically just sit. For 6+ hours and watch them be tortured. Everything about it saddens me.


  10. Melissa,

    What a well thought, powerful letter you have written on behave of your sons and teachers! The testing has gotten out of control. My fellow teachers and I talk all the time about how much “fun” we used to have teaching and if we looked at our test scores back then they would blow out current test scores off the charts!

    I ask that you please send this letter to our current legislators at the Department of Education. We need parents, as yourself, sending your frustrations to our legislators whom haven’t stepped foot in a classroom since they were probably in school.

    Thanks again for your letter!


  11. I wholeheartedly agree with most of this letter, but find it is based on a false premise. Please note that the Common Core curriculum and other assessments do NOT come from “wealthy capitalists”, but from progressives like Arne Duncan who have never taught themselves, but was named for his ideology and his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Harvard. Also, big publishing companies with left leaning progressive ideas are forcing our children in public education to be taught unproven statements as fact: ie, Scholastic Magazine says “all climate change and global warming is because of humankind. As a school counselor and substitute teacher 22 yrs with my Masters in Education, I have seen it all. Please don’t get sucked into rhetoric on the left or the right. Seek the truth yourselves, and then work like hell with the school boards to change their curriculum to reflect YOUR community. The NEA and OEA are nothing but an arm of the Democratic party. Keep politics out of the classroom.


    1. Thanks for your input, Kyle & for taking the time to read my letter.
      Although I cannot keep politics out of classrooms because the government is directly linked to public education in our democracy, I certainly understand your point and did not mean to endorse or disparage either of our country’s two main political parties. Although I always believe people’s intentions are positive, I am absolutely not a fan of policies or agendas related to high stakes standardized testing from either side. Here is an interesting read about the history of school reform from another reader’s comment: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/education-uprising/the-myth-behind-public-school-failure


  12. I sure hope that my opinion will not deleted above, just because it does not agree with the writer 100%. To do so would tell me that educating parents and the community is only good if the opinion giver says what you want to hear. As educators, we need more food for thought, not less. Thank you.


  13. Well written and on point! However, please understand that the teacher, principal, school and district earn a 0 for each test a student does not take. While I respect your stance, I regret that the state legislature and governor who enacted these measures will only punish the staff and school.


  14. Thank you for this wonderful letter. My gifted son was held out of advanced classes in our district because of these tests!! What kind of educators will withhold a child from advanced education??? It was a fight and my stance to our administration was regarding the use of invalid tests to place students. My son is an A student and one invalid test diminished his educational career. It is for these reasons my son will be leaving the public school system next year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s