Ohio's test-driven culture has unintended consequences
The CH-UH administration has created instructional and testing pacing guides for each grade and most secondary subjects. These are calendars of material to be taught and tested at different points during the year. When these were first implemented, they were merely guidelines on curricula that should be emphasized, but recently they have morphed into restrictive deadlines and lock-step teaching.
Teachers are now being directed to teach and test within a certain time frame, regardless of the needs of students or the distractions that may occur in class, like a fire drill, for example, that interrupts instruction. There is a need for flexibility in the pacing guides because some students may not be ready to move on as the pacing guide dictates.
I believe that exposure to curriculum content should be aligned with whatever the state of Ohio decides that students need to know. Yet, the bigger picture of what is appropriate for students seems to be getting lost.
The administration wants data, so that learning can be analyzed and compared. Supposedly, the efforts to collect, compare and analyze data will help students do better and raise the ratings of our schools on the state report card. Testing, whether students are ready or not, then collecting and analyzing the results of these standardized tests makes very little sense to me. It might be useful if it informed instruction, but we seem to be missing that part in many cases.
When I began teaching in the district, I was handed a course of study. “Here, Klein, teach this stuff.” With mentoring from experienced teachers, and lots of work, I was able to shape the courses I taught to enable my students to learn the material.
I worked with colleagues to share materials and unit tests, give a common final, and everything seemed to work out well.
This is unheard of now. Teachers are told what materials to use and how to use them, with pre-tests, post-tests, and canned instruction. Little by little the heart and soul of teaching dies as more control over what, how, and when material is to be taught is taken from us in the name of collecting data.
I would like to see a backing off of the test-driven culture that our state and our district mandates and enforces. It does not work. It is a culture that fails to excite and inspire students, and it doesn’t allow teachers to facilitate learning.
Many factors affect the data, and analysis of that data must acknowledge the reality that when different classrooms generate different data results, it doesn’t necessarily mean that learning is not taking place. What it does mean is that there are different flavors of learning based on the differences in personalities among the children in those classrooms.
Personality matters because learning is based on relationships. Teachers should not have to worry about meeting the next testing deadline. Learning opportunities based on student and teacher interest within the curriculum should be respected, even when they veer from the lock-step instructional and testing regimen.
More thought needs to go into the larger goals we have for our students. The current trend toward standardization of content and knowledge has gone too far. There are better ways to help our children thrive.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.