Ohio's state report card does not measure what counts
We live in a time where everyone demands accountability. For public schools this has been twisted into making comparisons between different schools and students using some supposedly standard measures. Many of these measures are based on high-stakes tests that purport to test what students should have mastered at a particular point in time. Other measures report on graduation rates, gap closing, and student progress. In fact, there are so many categories on which to report, we often get lost in the mud of numbers. The more numbers there are, the more we blindly accept their legitimacy.
The main problem with reducing schools and students to numbers to be charted is that not all kids start out with the same advantages. Just as children learn to walk at different times, some children have advantages at home that will help them succeed in school more easily than other students. For instance, a first-grader whose parents read to him or her often is probably going to have an easier time learning to read than a child whose parents can’t read and don’t have books in the house. Think about it. The same is true for a child whose parents are working so hard to feed the family that they are too exhausted at the end of the day to read to the child if they even get home before the child is in bed. First-graders with these very different experiences are often found in the same classroom in our schools.
In our public schools we do a great job of teaching students. Students are learning tremendously well. A problem with standardized measures is that if students don’t meet arbitrary levels at arbitrary points in time, the school gets dinged. Why should students, teachers, schools, the district and, ultimately, the community be punished through the state accountability measures when students are learning? Is this the best way to ensure “accountability?”
Another example [of arbitrary measures] is graduation rate. The state requires us to take the students we have in ninth grade and see how many graduate in four years. When a student moves, we have to track where the student goes, and still have to see if he or she graduates in four years. If a student has multiple handicaps and is guaranteed an education until age 22, we get dinged when the student doesn’t graduate “on time.” Shouldn’t we celebrate every child who is able to meet the graduation requirements, regardless of how long it takes? For students who take five or six years, it shows they stuck with it and kept on trying, probably by overcoming tremendous obstacles. This achievement through adversity is a great skill for students to have, for whatever they decide to do with their lives. We should respect that kind of hard work and dedication, but instead our schools lose points on the state report card.
Our Heights schools do amazing things in all sorts of ways. Our students are wonderful, but they come to us from an array of different circumstances. I believe we can always improve what we do, but the measures that the state has put in place are a distraction to being able to teach. It is hard to focus on the needs of our students when the predetermined goal may or may not always be realistic in the time frame we are given.
Standardization seems to me the absence of creativity—it is about uniformity and compliance. Anyone who knows anything about people knows that we are far from standardized. Unfortunately, standardization is the state’s goal for our students. We should have more conversations about what we believe success really looks like in school.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.