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Dear Ohio Department of Education (ODE),
Please stop misleading and lying to parents about state tests.
In addition to the corruption surrounding charter schools that forced Governor Kasich’s buddy, Dave Hansen, to resign from his position as school choice director at the ODE, and the sinister and deceitful attack on urban school districts in the state (in partnership with business leaders and many in Ohio’s legislature), the unscrupulous and blatant disregard for honesty or truth also permeates the department’s testing “informational” literature.
In opposition to multiple misleading or blatantly false claims in the ODE’s Information on Student Participation in State Tests, I prepared some truth to share.
- States are required under the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to maintain annual testing in grades 3-8 in reading and math and once in high school, and three science tests are to be given between grades 3 and 12. Any additional testing is completely at the discretion of state lawmakers and the ODE. Furthermore, state lawmakers decide how much test scores count within state-created accountability frameworks. Thus, elected representatives, who are supposed to represent the people – not test-makers profiting off of the system, or charter school operators looking to use children as cash cows – can decide to continue the climate of test and punish, or they can approach education as a right that all children should have equitable access to, under the guidance of credible research-based instructional approaches. This would be a fresh approach not guided by corporate and unethical profiteers and instead focuses on children’s best interests.
- Although thus far Ohio is continuing the pattern of harmful high stakes testing, under ESSA, lawmakers have the discretion to determine how to address schools or districts with parent opt-out or refusal rates which result in less than 95% of the student population being tested. In a democracy, when the government secretly plans then implements policies that are in opposition to the people’s wants or needs, then the people should revolt. The more people that join the revolution or resistance, the sooner the Ohio Department of Education, Governor, and Legislature will get the message.
- Testing is not educating. Stop saying that teachers need the results of these tests to inform instruction. It is absolutely FALSE. By the time teachers in Ohio get results back (if they ever get the results), their students are already in another grade, in another classroom, and the scores are meaningless. If teachers were waiting for scores to be returned from last year’s tests to inform their instruction, they wouldn’t have been able to teach anything up until last month. There are still teachers and students in our state who have not received any results from last year’s tests. Have they been teaching students since August, or have they just been sitting around waiting for test score results to inform their instruction? Added to this absurdity is the fact that Ohio is an embarrassing national example, once again, of the manipulation and inflation of scores, which renders those scores to a level of indescribable uselessness.
- High stakes standardized test scores are completely INVALID when held to psychometric or statistical standards for validity. The ONLY reliable result of the tests has been a correlation between test scores and socioeconomic status. The exact same teachers can teach the exact same way in two different school districts in Ohio and have very different results based on factors that influence the children and families in their schools that are beyond the teacher’s control. In fact, 70-90% of how students perform on tests is a result of influences outside of school. Results from state tests do not result in an accurate accountability system for schools, teachers, students, or communities.
- State report cards that use results from state tests, like Ohio has chosen to implement, do NOT provide an “apples to apples” comparison between schools or districts. Instead, report cards for districts create a hierarchical system of labels and harsh consequences in order to continue the mission of unending plunder of public education at the expense of taxpayers, while contributing to the already wealthy friends of Kasich and some Ohio legislators.
- State tests have nothing to do with providing every child a high-quality education in Ohio, or anywhere else. There is not a single high-performing nation in the world that tests all of their children annually. Furthermore, studies show that the emphasis on testing in our country has actually harmed education, and it has been especially punitive for traditionally underrepresented groups, and for groups protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA).
- The tests are not “checkpoints” that ensure readiness. In fact, decades of credible research suggests that laws like the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” only serve to increase the chances of deleterious long-term effects on children subjected to mandated retention.
It is my hope that by bringing to light these discrepancies between the truth and the false claims in your literature, that a more candid and sincere informational message could be shared with parents and stakeholders in Ohio.
Here is a sample. Feel free to borrow any parts for future publications.
Information on Student Participation in State Testing in Ohio (Adapted for the Ohio Department of Education by Melissa Marini Svigelj-Smith)
All schools in our state should be equipped with the resources and funding necessary to ensure that every child has equal access to a quality educational experience. It is important to acknowledge that historic and systemic racism and oppression, as well as economic inequities, have negatively impacted obtaining this goal. Furthermore, the majority of factors that influence a child’s experience in school begin long before a child enters kindergarten or even preschool. For example, the first 2000 days of a child’s life has the potential to negatively or positively impact that child’s future academic attainment. Additionally, twenty-two percent of children in the United States are living in poverty. Poverty can have long-term negative effects on a child’s learning.
Utilizing the credible and valid research at our disposal, the Ohio Department of Education will fully comply with federal mandates under the Every Student Succeeds Act, yet will not pretend that the annual testing of students has in any way improved education in our state or country. Some schools, districts, organizations, and private entities have been given sums of money to promote testing or hope to profit from testing children, even when it is detrimental to students. However, with the best interest of students and a healthy democracy in mind, we will limit testing to federal mandates, and advocate for policies that do not emphasize high stakes testing. Results of tests should not be used to label or shame districts, schools, teachers, or students. Misusing test data could result in harm to students and education in general.
POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF HIGH STAKES TESTING
- A nine-year study by the National Research Council (2011) concluded that the emphasis on testing yielded little learning progress but caused significant harm.
- High stakes testing drives teachers away, especially from schools that need them the most. They also eliminate or reduce time for other subjects that are not tested like music, art, and physical education. Research shows that access to those classes improves academics.
- According to statisticians, standardized testing does not meet the criteria for validity. Even score gains do not mean improved learning. It could just mean more teaching to the test. They also fail to accurately assess developmentally advanced students or the progress of students with special needs.
- High stakes standardized tests do not measure non-content skills children develop at school, or take into account the individuality of students’ learning needs. There is no teamwork, creativity, or work ethic being learned while sitting in silence and taking a test.
- High stakes standardized testing does not help students who arrive at school with disadvantages. Instead, students from low-income households, traditionally underserved students, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners are more likely to not earn a diploma and are more likely to be pushed out of school into the school-to-prison pipeline.
WHY STUDENTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN STATE TESTS
- Children should not have to attend a school labeled “failing,” or labeled anything at all. Schools should be resources for children, families, and the community.
- The word FAILURE should never hover over a school building, and make children afraid of how they will do on a test.
- Children should not have to be afraid of how their teacher will be hurt by their performance on a test, or how their school, community, or city will be labeled because of how they do on a test.
- Children’s privacy should not be violated, and test companies should not profit from harming children or data mining in schools.
- Subjects like art, music, gym, and recess have been shown by research to increase academic success, and shouldn’t be reduced or eliminated because kids need to take or prepare for more standardized tests
- The emotional and social growth of children in school is not measured on a standardized test.
- The teacher who delivers groceries to a family in need, advocates for a student, or becomes a student’s confidant, counselor, or role model will never have that data show up in test results, and children’s teachers should be trusted to assess their progress.
- The long term consequences of the labeling and retention of children are profound.
- There are more effective and research-proven methods to educate our children and to evaluate teachers and schools.
I will continue refusing to allow my children to be subjected to a system designed to attack and destroy public schools. It isn’t because I am afraid of how they will perform on standardized tests, but because I am afraid that children who do not have the advantages and opportunities that they have will be unfairly labeled and punished. I will never be convinced that children in other schools, in other cities or neighborhoods, are getting a better or worse education because of mandated high stakes standardized tests.
I hope my sons grow up to be happy, healthy, empathetic human beings who never forget that their humanity is bound up in others. I will never look back on their childhoods and regret that they did not get to take more standardized tests. I will never wonder if I need standardized test scores to tell me what my children are worth. It will not occur to me that by not taking standardized tests, my children somehow missed out on obtaining the best education that they could.
However, I may wonder how and why so many adults who were supposed to advocate for children failed, and chose deception and harm instead of protection and resistance.
Thank you for your attention to my concerns.
Melissa Marini Svigelj-Smith