State report card inadequate as quality measure
In September, the Ohio Department of Education issued its annual report cards for each school in the state’s 610 districts. The reports are based on state-mandated tests taken last spring by students in grades 3–12. Calling these annual data dumps a report card is a stretch; that would suggest depth, thought about the complex components of quality education, and qualitative, as well as quantitative, information.
A summary of results for the Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District is posted on the district’s website (www.chuh.org) under the headline “District makes strides in closing education gaps.” According to last year’s test data, several of our schools have done a great job reducing test performance differences among children by race, income and other categories. That’s something to be proud of when your goal is equity.
The summary includes this comment from Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby: “While the report card provides information about performance on state assessments, our strategic plan is our blueprint towards realizing our mission for our students. We monitor our progress towards our strategic plan goals through a robust performance management structure that guides the work of our teacher teams, building leadership teams and district departments.”
Test scores are not robust measures.
I’m impressed by Kirby’s response. She articulated that the report card summarizes state test performance—that’s all. She then went on to define what the school district aspires to, and the variety of metrics needed to evaluate whether it has achieved its vision.
This is a refreshing departure from the past when, out of fear of looking unconcerned, our leaders had to promise to do better. They inadvertently validated a system they knew was not fair or adequate.
I followed an online link to the strategic plan (www.chuh.org/StrategicPlanning.aspx) and was thrilled by the vision we have for our students. Our district’s mission isn’t to create great test-takers; it's about developing citizens.
The district’s core values, excellence, equity, integrity, trust and respect, “remind us of what we must see in ourselves and one another.” You don’t measure these ingredients by test scores alone.
The strategic plan defines the metrics needed to measure quality: "Measures that matter go beyond test scores and KPIs [key performance indicators]; activities such as community service, participation in the arts, music, and sports, and an ongoing quest for learning come to mind when we imagine a Heights graduate who is ready to become a responsible, caring and successful citizen.”
Standardized testing has driven our public schools for 20 years. State lawmakers have attached a variety of consequences to test performance, including labeling some schools as failing. These high-stakes consequences are inappropriate, but they prevail. They create fear among educators, trapping them in an endless quest for high scores.
Ohio spends millions each year on testing, only to confirm what researchers have proven over and over: Test results reflect the family income of the students who attend our schools, rather than the quality of education they receive.
People are hungry for good information about their kids and their schools, but this [report card] data doesn’t provide insight into authentic learning, effective teaching, character development, or the conditions that support engagement and success.
We want more for our kids than what the state has decided is important. I’m grateful that Kirby did not fall for the false claims and limited vision offered by its report card. We shouldn’t either. Standardized tests can provide useful data, but for them to be legitimate, we need to stop attaching high-stakes consequences to them.
Susie Kaeser moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. A community booster, she is the author of Resisting Segregation, a book about local activism.