School board rejects high-stakes testing

I am grateful to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education for taking a stand on high-stakes testing. At its March 19 meeting, the board unanimously approved a resolution titled “Time to Teach, Time to Learn,” which rejects “the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.”

For too long, public schools in Ohio have been tethered to a destructive judgment system that legislators said would ensure that all children succeed in school. This approach uses standardized tests to make consequential decisions that are supposed to motivate high achievement. The goal is admirable, but the strategy is misguided. High-stakes testing is a misuse of standardized tests.

Rather than passively accept a policy that is counterproductive, the board expressed its opposition using the resolution process. That’s the way elected bodies can put their views on the record.

This resolution has many “whereas” and “therefore” statements that capture concerns and solutions. They are worth reading. The first statement sets the tone. It expresses a broad set of purposes for public education that cannot be measured on tests. The board wants our students to emerge as capable citizens and committed learners who can strengthen the nation’s social and economic well-being. How do you capture that on a multiple-choice test?

The best way to be prepared for our ever-changing world is to be open to learning. Being rigid about what all students must know in each grade seems both irrelevant to the purpose of education and contrary to the reality of human development. Making harsh judgments based on whether students know what the tests measure is destructive and contrary to good practice. One of the most damaging effects of test-driven education is that it simply kills excitement for learning, the core ingredient for a lifetime of growth.

Linking high-stakes decisions to test results makes test performance the focus for the classroom. When passing the test becomes the focus of the education process, educators abandon the fundamentals of honoring each child’s unique qualities, interests, learning style and learning speed. The pressure to perform squelches creative teaching and engaged learning.

Real achievement, real thinking, real confidence, a desire to take risks and learn from failure—all these meaningful outcomes—become secondary to the test performance requirement that doesn’t tell anything authentic about how students or schools are doing their jobs.

Effective education needs to meet children where they are, find their strengths, ignite their inherent curiosity, and harness their lively minds and caring hearts. This is really challenging work. But that’s where our educators should be focusing their skills and expertise—not on raising test scores. The so-called accountability system gets in the way of the real work of education. Taking tests to prove that you have achieved some arbitrary level of knowledge and then using test results to define education quality is not worthwhile.

The board called their resolution “Time to Teach, Time to Learn” because testing wastes precious time and subverts both teaching and learning. The resolution rejected the use of standardized tests to make high-stakes decisions that define children, teachers or schools as failures. Our local leaders propose a different approach that focuses on the classroom and relies on teacher-designed assessments to gather information about student learning and inform their teaching.

Our Board of Education wants more for our children and teachers than test scores. These elected representatives and guardians of our public schools want more for our community than a school system that conforms. They want more for our society than test takers.

I congratulate them for their leadership and for wanting more.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.

Read More on The Common Good
Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:33 AM, 05.02.2019