Superintendents protest new graduation requirements

When school superintendents protest at the Ohio Statehouse, you know there is something terribly wrong.

Their job is to implement policies mandated by their local boards of education and comply with the Ohio legislature’s demands. They are not exactly the boat-rocking kind—except when something seriously threatens their students.

On Nov. 15, more than 200 superintendents and school board members from across Ohio gathered in Columbus to protest Ohio’s latest misuse of standardized tests. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District participated in this public display of concern. Superintendent Talisa Dixon and board members Ron Register, Kal Zucker and Beverly Wright made up our contingent.

These advocates for students challenged Ohio’s newest high school graduation requirements. Starting next year under the new requirements, students who have earned enough high school credits will have three routes to receiving a diploma: They can earn a high score on a college entrance exam, obtain an industry credential that says they are ready for a job, or earn 18 out of a possible 35 points on seven end-of-course exams. The exams would replace the Ohio Graduation Test. Proponents of the policy say it will make a diploma “mean something.” The superintendents challenged the overreliance on standardized tests, the lack of educator input in creating the requirements, and the rapid implementation of yet another set of tests with high-stakes consequences.

Dixon joined the protest to make public her opposition to the use of standardized tests to demonstrate rigor and preparedness. According to her, “Standardized tests are good for sorting, but they do not help produce the learners and leaders that our country needs and desires. There is no way these assessments are evidence of job or college readiness.” In her view, the tests undermine the meaningful educational engagement that is needed to actually prepare students for 21st-century demands.

John Haswell, superintendent of the Shadyside School District, spoke out against the unfair use of the tests. “There is no way a single test should have the capacity to erase an entire year’s worth of work.” In his poorly funded rural district, only 44 percent of students passed the new geometry exam, when 100 percent had passed a different test the year before.

The new tests were piloted in 2016. Dixon reported that Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction projects that only 28 percent of Ohio’s seniors will be on track to pass the exams in the 2017–18 school year. If the tests are used and the required number of points earned is not modified, most Ohio students will not graduate on time.

Think about what that means. How just is a system that relies on a test that predicts economic status, rather than one that captures learning, to decide who graduates from high school? How fair is a system that allows a test to negate successful completion of a high school curriculum? And then there is the increased cost of education that follows when kids repeat a school year hoping to pass a test, and the cost in human potential when more kids give up on a high school degree because of test scores.

According to education philosopher Alfie Kohn, items that can be measured on a standardized test are rarely important. Why would a standardized test be a better measure of what a student learned in geometry than what the teacher could see throughout the year in their classroom participation, the development of their thinking and problem-solving skills, and their performance on teacher-crafted assessments of what was actually being taught?

Superintendent Dixon is an avid proponent of making education responsive to the demands of the 21st century. For her, the route to this outcome is rich learning experiences. She thinks teacher-designed formative assessments supply the information teachers need to make sure kids are learning what is being taught—something standardized tests fail to achieve.

Ohio legislators cling to the idea that their responsibility for providing a solid education for our students is fulfilled by implementing a testing program and punishing districts and students based on test results.

When talk of “tough standards” leads to more testing, it is only creating more hurdles, not better education. I have yet to see any evidence that shows what standardized test score predicts success in life.

I’m grateful that our education leaders have joined this important fight to end the use of punitive public policies that undermine the common good. It is going to take all of us.

Susie Kaeser

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.

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Volume 10, Issue 1, Posted 11:48 AM, 01.03.2017