February 5, 2015

Dear Ohio Department of Education, State Board of Education, and Ohio Legislators:

Recently I submitted an open “opt-out” letter to my district administrators and school board members through a blog post titled My Sons and Their Teachers Deserve Better. Apparently my words resonated with others because within ten days it received approximately 15,000 views. I freely allowed others to use parts of the letter that were relevant to their situations for submission to their schools and districts. This letter was a result of culminating frustration with high stakes standardized testing personally and professionally as described in My High Stakes Testing Story. Today a two-page document published by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) dated February 4, 2015 and titled “Information on Student Participation in Tests” was digitally shared with me. The creation and need for such a document implies that there may have been an inundation of inquiries by individuals who are actively organized and invested in education in our state. Unfortunately, upon review of the document, it appears to be a combination of facts, propaganda, and fear mongering. The purpose of this letter is to clarify the intent of my prior letter, and to address the February 4th publication by the ODE.

 

The beginning of this ODE document contains some accuracy, such as the fact that Ohio does not have an “opt-out” procedure or form. It failed to note that Ohio does not have a law against refusing the test though either. According to the U.S Constitution which supersedes state laws, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom 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.” The ODE document also correctly indicates that possible consequences for Ohio’s children in third grade who do not take the test include the risk of not being promoted to fourth grade. Also, high school students who do not take the tests or ones that do take it and do not obtain certain scores may not be eligible for diplomas. Yet, the document neglected to inform readers that Ohio did not have to choose to be one of the approximately 20 states to link high stakes to tests. This harmful, punitive option was an ill-fated decision that Ohio legislators and the Department of Education will have to concede to eventually, even if its original intentions were genuine.

 

Clearly, the semantics used for the process of “opting out” are irrelevant. As a parent I have the right to refuse to allow my children to participate in activities that are physically and emotionally harmful, particularly when the activities being protested have not provided any data or evidence that my children’s participation will be beneficial. Thus far, high stakes standardized tests in our state have failed 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.”  The tests this year are new as schools transition to teaching Common Core, according to the ODE. Therefore, data to support test validity through adherence to mathematical standards and to the criteria for psychometric validity is nonexistent. I do not want my child to be a guinea pig in this experiment.

 

The ostensibly threatening nature of the second part of the ODE document, which seems intent on inspiring consternation among families like mine that are considering utilizing their rights in our democracy to direct their children’s education, is latent with details that lack evidence to support them. Previous results of state standardized tests in Ohio have only produced evidence that how students perform on those tests is directly and statistically significantly correlated to factors beyond a school or educator’s control. In fact, the results of these tests emphatically prove that socioeconomic status, environment, emotional stability, food security, and health are the major determining factors of how students will perform on standardized state tests. Therefore, results from the tests that are used to determine the effectiveness of districts, schools, and educators in Ohio, or are used  to assign an “A-F” rating are really reflecting the income and education levels of families in the community that the students are from, not necessarily the efforts of school systems. The claim that these tests are part of an authentic accountability process for school systems and their educators is ludicrous and it is unethical to continue to purport this information to the public as credible.

 

Yet all of this testing does portray pseudo accountability, as educators across the state are well aware. With this in mind, the ODE “Information on Student Participation in Tests” document offers the following: “A district may have additional consequences for students. For example, a district may include the state’s end-of-course test score in a student’s grade instead of a final exam. Students attending a nonpublic school may have different testing requirements.” I suppose one might conclude that the state never wants to bypass an opportunity to promote the mostly unaccountable nonpublic charter schools in the state. One might also surmise that the state would like to offer suggestions to districts in the event that schools would like to unite with them as they blackmail families into participating in state testing. To assist with this, the ODE recommends districts raise the stakes even higher, and include state tests as part of a student’s overall grade in a course. Even though evidence from research is plentiful and conclusive that classroom teacher created assessments are the most accurate and authentic measurements of student achievement, this endorsement of further detriment to students through high stakes standardized testing is shamelessly asserted. However, it is commendable that there were no false claims in the document to imply that high stakes standardized testing has in any way assisted with closing achievement gaps, because it indisputably has only widened those gaps.

 

As a result of the release of this document February 4th, 2015, that states districts may want to request refusals in writing, I wish to make my intentions and permissions completely unambiguous. I refuse (instead of opt-out) to allow my 4th grader to take any more standardized tests. These high stakes standardized tests have increased educational disparities and inequities including contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline and sustaining generational poverty.  I REFUSE to allow my child to be part of a system that promotes and perpetuates social injustice for ANY of our country’s children, but especially the most vulnerable. I trust his educated and experienced teacher to monitor his growth and progress ALL year long, and I am insulted when his education is reduced to numbers on isolated tests not generated by his classroom teachers. I am exercising my rights under the 14th amendment, under precedents set in court cases cited within this letter and within my notice to my district, and as a citizen in a country that is by definition governed through the consent of the people. Scare tactics and threats are usually the tools of a totalitarian regime when it is challenged, or tools utilized by individuals who feel cornered. Those methods will not work on families in Ohio like mine who are protecting our youngest citizens from emotional and physical stressors. The education and development of our children as contributing citizens is too vitally important to our country and the sustainability of our democracy for us to halt the movement to end high stakes standardized testing.

 

The text of the “Information” document on February 4th, 2015 is indicative of possible concerns that the ODE may have or may be hearing from individuals in the state. Please persist in exploring these concerns as they are presented and consider formulating educational policies that are intelligently designed, supported by research, and done in conjunction with educators and parents. Our children, educators, and the future of our state deserve better than what is currently being promulgated. I believe many other parents and individuals involved in education would express the same sentiment.

 

In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  I am just one parent, one teacher, one citizen, but there is a formidable, thoughtful, and committed group of citizens inspiring me. Do not doubt that fact.

 

Sincerely,

Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith

Berea, Ohio

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10 thoughts on “In Response to the Ohio Department of Education’s “Information on Student Participation in State Tests:” An open letter to the Ohio Department of Education, State Board of Education, and Ohio Legislators

  1. Thank you for this, Melissa.

    I’ve shared my thoughts and feelings widely and recently sent them to my superintendent. I think that this pretty much sums it up. 🙂

    These are my children. It is my responsibility to protect them. The state doesn’t know them, nor do they care how detrimental their mandates are. I am to care for my WHOLE child. Not simply the academic or profitable parts. In the end, I have to answer for the decisions that I made and the parent that I was. I need to teach my children to not simply comply, but to make a stand for what is right. I do not believe that our government is for the people and by the people. It is for the corporation and by the corporation. Education should not be run on a business model where children are acquisitions and the bottom line is profit. There is no shame.

    Allow me to share with you my stance on testing.

    I used to only think in terms of my daughter. She was my oldest, and the only one of my children old enough to be subject to testing. She always tested well, or well enough for a child who was always told to just get in there and do it, and then it’s done, and it doesn’t at all reflect where you’re at or who you are. It only determines how well you test under duress. That had always been my feeling regarding testing.

    I then had 3 more beautiful children, and they were all growing into unique and incredible individuals. As they grew, I began to see beauty in their strengths and weakness. My world was no longer one-child dimensional, and my eyes began to open. Then Ohio passed the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, common core hit, and testing increased 2 and 3 fold. Data became a priority, and big corporate money began to funnel into public education. That sent up too many red flags to even list. Recess was being taken away for test prep, because there aren’t enough days in a school year to prep for tests and have recess. I began to hear more and more about numbers, scores, data, and less and less about humanity in schools. The test scores are being used to determine a teacher’s value, which is ridiculous and crazy. It no longer matters that he/she gives hugs willingly, will buy a cold child a coat, sees that a child is never without lunch or snack, holds their hand, sings with them, calls them her “darlings”, keeps every single special note they are given, proclaims them all artist extraordinaires, or gives them each a little piece of himself every single day. If your child doesn’t test well, their teacher’s value declines.

    If your child doesn’t test well, their value declines. It no longer matters that they stand up to bullies, take care of their younger sisters after school, offer a friend their gloves, tell them they look pretty, hold their hand, or color special pictures for them.

    The 3rd Grade Guarantee…It no longer matters that you started out the year struggling, but have made such unbelievable progress. It doesn’t matter that your teacher has built up your confidence, and that you once again have dreams-she tells you that you can be anything that you want to. It doesn’t matter that you can read at a 4th grade level, but don’t test well. Your grades, your teacher’s thoughts and opinions, your effort, your progress, your hopes, dreams, and aspirations…none of it matters. The test is all that matters, and children with special needs are no exception. Children from affluent zip codes score better than those from poverty stricken zip codes.

    We have gone truly insane if we think it is ok to put the same pressure on an 8 or 9 year old, as we put on a 16 or 17 year old. These are babies, and when they are no longer babies, I want them to remember that they were children once. I want them to recall fondly a childhood of laughter and abandon, and devoid of labels, high stakes testing, and scores that define them.

    While my oldest son and my oldest daughter, will likely always test proficient, I no longer fight for just them. I fight for every child. Every child is mine, is ours, and it is no longer alright for me to see the world as one-child dimensional.

    While it may not seem like we are immediately gaining back the instructional time that would have been lost to testing, we are not feeding the machine. As long as I choose to let one of my children test, based on them testing well, I am doing a disservice to all children who cannot. When enough of us put our pencils (or mice) down, we can stop this for ALL children. I don’t just fight for my child; I fight for yours, as well.

    When we win this fight, when we speak loud enough for them to hear, when we stand together, when we are the voice of the voiceless, when we accept nothing less…things will change. Then we will gain our instructional time back. We will regain the value of humanity, and our children will be able to remember fondly that they once had a childhood.

    ~Stephanie Adams
    Mother to 4 amazing kiddos

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for speaking out and helping to help change this. I am incredibly curious about the state of mind of the typical school district administration… why are they not more actively speaking up and out? Is it so innately in their nature to roll-over to trends in education? Do they not realize that if their districts/schools don’t shine on these tests, their own administrative career is at-risk? I see no wins in this entire scenario, except at Collegiate Board and others peddling services, curriculum and test prep paraphernalia. It certainly isn’t one of my four children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a “special education teacher”, the standardized testing is doing more harm for the student who is in need of specialized services and needs more time and attention of the teacher than more time being tested. I have always said that if the test is covering what the student really needs to learn, then teaching to the test is a grand idea. When one considers the special education student, do they really need to be judged by the same measuring stick as the person striving to enroll at Harvard or Yale? As one of my sixth grade students struggles to identify letters, is it fair to be measured by her ability or inability to compete with the aspiring college student? Is it fair to measure the special education teacher working with this student who is struggling to read? I tracked the amount of time my students were not getting their specialized services one year. Out of the 36 weeks of instruction, my students were not receiving their mandated education services for more than nine weeks! Yes, more than one fourth of the school year spent with the teacher not teaching because of the testing schedule. That was with the Ohio Achievement Assessment. Now it is growing with more tests, more time on preparation for the test, complicated computerized testing requirements and less time for all students to receive instruction on the academics. I have signed as Mr. Teacher, simply because I am concerned about the retribution that I would receive (believe me it would happen) for expressing my personal and professional opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The one thing that standardized tests are doing well – at least from what I’ve learned re MCAS in Massachusetts, is that achievement gaps exist even in towns where the overwhelming proportion of students have wealthy backgrounds, something that had been previously been ignored since these students were in the minority. It is important to find achievement gaps in terms of race, socio-economic status, gender, etc in all schools and not just harass the schools that mostly service those students in poverty. Thank you for a well-rounded letter – rare to see these days!

    Like

  5. Wonderful! I think your letter should be required reading for anyone and everyone. I am so tired of standardized testing being crammed down peoples’ throats the world over as something it is not. I am absolutely aghast that administrators and teachers even put up with the BS of national exams used in such excessive and trollish ways. I’ll be sure to reference this in my upcoming book on education!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. And now, since ODE is being tardy on getting OGT test scores back, we have a number of students in Scioto County (6 that I personally know of – one being a foreign exchange student who is to graduate with honors) who can not walk in the Graduation ceremonies due to school policy’s that they much have completed the OGT’s successfully. It is unknown if they were completed successfully, since the scores will not be back until ONE day after the graduation date. ODE moved the date back from May 10th to May 18th for the scores to be returned. These students are being punished for the states tardiness! They miss out on a lifetime milestone that can never be again! I am fighting as hard as I can for them, contacting all who will listen. This is so very wrong for our kids

    Like

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