January 25th, 2015
Dear Ohio Department of Education, Berea School Board Members, Superintendent Sheppard, & Principal Grimm,
My sons have been in Berea City Schools since we moved here almost 15 years ago. I chose this community, in part, because I perceived the community as diverse and progressive in addition to having a reputable school system that celebrated the arts and seemed to have a “whole child” approach to educating. Although I still believe in public education, the current trends mandated by politicians and promoted by wealthy capitalists who have no background in education or knowledge of current research that outlines best educational practices are destroying our children’s curiosities and love for learning. Simultaneously, these mandates are sending a message to current and preservice teachers that the profession is nothing but a conglomerate of robots who need to be fed information to spew at students. And these students must be perceived by these ignorant reformers as a collection of identical mini robots that will easily absorb this information being emitted, rather than allowing educators to cultivate students’ minds utilizing the knowledge and expertise that teachers bring to classrooms from their extensive education and experience. Not only is it egregious and morally unethical to continue enforcing high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations under a guise of accountability, but it is the exact opposite of how top performing countries approach educating their youth.
Below is the test schedule for 4th graders in our district:
Fall, Winter & Spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Gr. 1: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 2: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 3: Reading & Math Gr. 4: Reading & Math Grades 1-4
Fall, Winter & Spring Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) Kdg.: Fall, Winter & Spring (all) Gr. 1: Fall (all), Spring & Winter (targeted) Gr. 2: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 3: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 4: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Grades K-4
Nov. 10-14, 2014 Iowa Assessments (IA) (Complete Battery; achievement assessment)Grade 4
Feb. 16 – Mar. 6, 2015 Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 3: English Language Arts – dropped Math (2/23-24) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (2/18, 19, 20) Math (2/25-26)
Mar. 2 – Mar. 13,2015 Next Generation Assessments [ODE] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 4: Social Studies (3/4)
Apr. 13 – May 1,2015¹ Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (End-of-Year Exams) Math (4/14 & 16) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (4/20) Math (4/22 & 23) Grades 3-4
If my 4th grade son was an English Language Learner (ELL) or had Cognitive Disabilities (CD), he would have even more tests scheduled.This list doesn’t include assessments that are teacher-generated such as spelling or math tests which might cover material learned each week in class. Nor does it cover practice tests given during class in order to prepare students for the high stakes tests. Making this testing craze even more reprehensible is the fact that scores from non-classroom generated tests are used to evaluate the effectiveness of educators in classrooms. Do teachers even have time to actually offer meaningful instruction to students when so many of their minutes are stolen by standardized tests that mathematical analysis and metrics have shown fail to meet standards for test validity? Researchers know that 80% of how a student performs academically is due to family, environmental, and health factors beyond a teacher’s control, yet half or more of their performance as educators is based on that faulty data. Could it be any wonder why half of new educators leave the profession within their first five years of teaching? As a principal in Finland stated “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” My sons and their teachers deserve better. Our city, state, and country deserve better.
My son, Julian Svigelj-Smith, is in 4th grade for the 2014-2015 school year at Grindstone Elementary. This letter is to inform you that I refuse to have my child take part in the OAA’s, PARCC, or any other forms of high stakes standardized testing. I have been advised that my spiritual and psychological concerns meet the criteria for honoring my request. In lieu of the high stakes standardized tests I request that my child be given alternative forms of assessment to include, but not limited to, teacher made assessments, projects, MAPs/NWEA tests, and/or portfolio, etc., to be determined at the discretion of Julian’s teachers, who are the educational professionals with the education, experience, and expertise to provide the best educational environment for my child. There is no current state law in Ohio that requires my child to take these tests, and my child cannot be retained or punished in 4th grade as a result of refusing to complete these tests. Over a decade of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from the University of Pennsylvania to Harvard conclusively prove that high stakes testing like the “3rd Grade Reading Guarantee” harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society — children with special needs and children in poverty. It also contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline that is most likely to harm students who are already fraught with disadvantages.
Additionally, achievement goals for teachers and students are arbitrary without regard for students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.The metrics are designed to place all non-school achievement variables on the teacher and is not a valid reflection of my child’s abilities. This goes to the heart of pseudo accountability and the metrics machine that perpetuates the system of false claims and lies about public schools and their students and teachers. This high stakes testing approach also goes to the heart of the validity problem with standardized tests for students and teachers, which measure the historical effect of the living conditions of the student, not the teacher effects. The entire section of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) dealing with student growth measures is 100 percent indefensible from a mathematical and psychometric perspective. I am a certified OTES evaluator for the state of Ohio, and I recognize this blatant disconnect between reality and the data produced by standardized tests and subjective evaluative professional domains. The high stakes tests nor the dozens of OTES components truly measure the long hours and emotionally exhausting efforts by Ms. Prohaska that have reignited a love for school in my son that 3rd grade reading guarantee demands nearly destroyed in him less than a year ago. Her integration of current and substantial research into her classroom that includes, movement, competition, tactile activities, rewards, and a classroom that nurtures the social and emotional development of the students she obviously adores, will never be fairly evaluated in a system that emphasizes standardized test scores and factors that are a result of the students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.
According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom and this federal law supersedes state laws in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)
High stakes tests are harmful to my child and all children socially, emotionally and physically, and diminish opportunities for educational equity in public schools where my sons have been guaranteed the right to a quality education. As a mother and educator, I find it difficult to believe that any of us entered the field of education or became parents so that we could harm children. Yet we have allowed politicians and wealthy elitist capitalists to try to force us to do just that. I present this letter to you not only to make certain that my son is not participating in the travesty that is PARCC, OAA, or any other invalid test taking, but also as an invitation to be part of a movement for justice, equity, and intelligently designed education. A crusade to meet the potential that public education holds can reclaim the joy of learning for our young people through what is research proven, will stop arbitrary unfounded evaluations of educators, and introduce equity and intelligent design to education in America. Advocates for quality education for all students regardless of income, race, gender, ethnicity, ability, or geography cannot remain bystanders while others continually produce mandates that injure children. If our oblivious, discriminatory, and unenlightened state board of education refuses to begin advocating for the students that it is supposed to be protecting, then it is up to parents, local school boards and their employees, and community stakeholders to stand for what is right. If we are not going to become part of the solution, then we remain part of the problem.
Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith
On February 4, 2015 Ohio’s Department of Education published “Information on Student Participation in State Tests.” Although there are severe consequences mandated by Ohio (passing high stakes standardized tests are not part of graduation requirements in all states) that could impede a student’s ability to graduate or advance to the next grade level if a student does not pass a test, these harsh consequences are limited to 3rd grade and high school at this point. Opt out groups typically do not recommend opting students out of tests that will hinder their ability to make progress in school or graduate. However, the rest of the “Information” published by Ohio’s Department of Education is part propaganda and a partial attempt at a scare tactic so that families will stop refusing to allow their students to participate in these tests that fail to meet mathematical standards for test validity. According to Dr. Randy Hoover (2014) “Test validity is only meaningful in terms of how the test is used and what it is used for. In other words, test validity is a formal examination to determine the degree to which a test is appropriate and accurate in serving what it is used for. Formal examination reveals that the assumption of Ohio’s tests being valid is false.”
Before learning about this latest publication from the Ohio Department of Education, I published a blog post last night about the high cost of high stakes testing. Do not let anyone intimidate you about choosing to do what is right for your child and the future of education in our cities, state, and country. There wouldn’t be a need for this latest “Information” from the state if they were not getting anxious about families speaking out and taking a stand. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead