City and school leaders work together
On April 16, Cleveland Heights City Council passed a resolution calling for the Ohio General Assembly to stop ranking schools based on state test results. The resolution calls for a report card that “more accurately measures how public schools are fulfilling their primary role of developing productive citizens.”
The current system combines aggregated standardized test results, complicated growth measures and graduation rates to create an A-to-F grade for school districts and individual schools. This quick and dirty system defines winners and losers but provides no real insight into the quality of opportunity or learning.
The preoccupation with tests takes the life out of learning. The emphasis on judgment contributes to the failed-education narrative and does not translate into citizenship skills.
The worst thing about this system is that it discriminates. It ignores the reality that, as Daniel Koretz noted in The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, “Test scores don’t measure the quality of schools but rather reflect the aggregate economic level of a school system’s families.”
The state report card advantages white middle class communities. They get an A grade much more frequently than racially diverse communities or those with concentrations of children living in poverty. The current system imposes a lockstep expectation that all children have the same opportunity and should thus earn the same arbitrarily set test score.
I was happy to witness the council vote on the resolution. It passed without fireworks or even comment. It was an important public statement of opposition to destructive policy, and a moment of unity for the elected officials representing our schools and our city government. Council members understand, as Mayor Carol Roe explained, “The city and the schools are interdependent. The schools are an important community asset. We are aware that public schools are under attack. It’s devastating. We need to speak up.”
The resolution notes that ranking school districts is “harmful to communities, particularly racially and economically diverse communities.” The grade has a negative impact on perceptions of the quality of a neighborhood. The grades “greatly influence neighborhood choices for families and businesses, and most of all send a negative message to education professionals, families and students about the perceived value of their educational experience.” They nailed it!
Starting in 1964, when housing discrimination was still legal, determined white residents of Cleveland Heights fought realtors who had the power to discriminate and control who could live in their community.
Because of their efforts and courageous African Americans who were willing to risk moving to a white community, Cleveland Heights became racially diverse. Integration has endured despite the reality that America is more segregated today than it was when activists first took up the cause of fair housing.
Our diversity is both a powerful asset and a source of vulnerability. Enduring racism means too many public policies favor all-white and middle-class communities. Ohio’s school accountability system is a heartbreaking case in point.
We are vulnerable. Today, the state legislature, like realtors in the past, can destroy integrated communities. This profound power demands a change in policy for the benefit of stable communities.
Education is complicated and quality is a much richer idea than can ever be measured by a standardized test. This deeply flawed system has consequences.
The fact that CH City Council felt compelled to take a position reflects a growing appreciation, beyond the education community, of the harm caused by current education policy. The Cleveland Heights resolution is modeled after one passed last year in Lyndhurst.
I take some hope in the fact that a state board of education committee is reviewing the report card. Additionally, Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) has introduced H.B. 591, which calls for a new approach that would rely less on test scores. Increased vigilance by all voices will be necessary for this new interest in correction to succeed.
Cuyahoga County’s school superintendents and city councils have networks that meet to share common concerns. I hope our local leaders will take the next step and encourage their peers to demand change. It’s time for it!
Here at home, we can be glad that the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education and the Cleveland Heights City Council have three dates on their calendars to continue working together. One agenda item, according to board president Jim Posch, is to define together just what kind of information can illuminate our community’s understanding of the quality of education in our district.
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.