We have a chance to speak out against too much testing
Should my dentist’s performance be rated by how many cavities I have? Or my physician be evaluated based on my body mass index? Of course not. Yet, 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation in the Heights and throughout Ohio is based on how well students perform on tests. Some of the measures used to determine whether there is sufficient student improvement are standardized state tests. This method for evaluating teacher performance is one of the causes of excessive testing in Ohio. Much of this mandated testing is really about rating and ranking teachers, schools, districts and communities instead of determining how to improve student learning.
Students in our school system are learning, but some students start further behind. Some children enter kindergarten in our district and don’t know their colors, can’t recognize letters of the alphabet, or don’t know their own first names. In many cases our dedicated teachers are able to help bring these children up to grade level by third grade—an amazing accomplishment.
Older students who enter our schools who are below grade level are much less malleable. To compare these students with children from families who have had every possible advantage does not make sense, but that is what we do in Ohio. The “test and punish” system that is prevalent in Ohio does not recognize the fact that students who come from impoverished backgrounds need exposure to museums, libraries, books, music lessons, travel, and a thousand other opportunities.
I believe it is our responsibility to teach and value all children who come through our doors. Just because they may take a little longer to gain proficiency does not mean they are not smart and capable. Unfortunately, scores from these students will lower their teachers’ evaluation ratings, along with [those of] their school, district and community. Ultimately, it will take some students even longer to catch up because of the stigma they will assign themselves because they are behind academically.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a new federal law, allows state legislatures to decouple teacher evaluations from student growth measures, thus reducing the number of mandated tests. We have an important opportunity to try to influence our legislators, but we have to speak up.
People around the country are starting to realize that the current law requires testing children for the wrong reasons. Many also realize that this excessive testing is unreliable, invalid, and does not benefit children. Not only is it costly and inefficient, instructional time lost to testing is lost forever.
The Heights Coalition for Public Education formed, in part, to address the poor use of testing. Susie Kaeser and I, along with many other dedicated community members, have been gathering interest and support while educating everyone we are in contact with about the disastrous effects of education policy over the last 25 years.
Join us and close to 1,000 others who agree with the group’s position statement at chuh.net/coalition. We can make a difference if we speak with enough support at regional stakeholder meetings being held by the Ohio Department of Education throughout the state (meeting information will be posted on the coalition’s website). We may not get another chance.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.