An open letter to legislators

Recently, the OFT Educational Issues Standing Committee wrote a position paper on testing in Ohio. The paper was designed in a question/answer format for legislators and other stakeholders who might not be familiar with all the terminology that is being used in discussions and focuses on providing our professional perspective on how assessments can drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further action.

Below is the letter that prefaces the document. Please read the letter and then link to the full report.

In addition to writing the report, we have actively been gathering information about your experiences with the testing process this year. If you have not yet taken our survey, please do so now.

The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing also has a website that allows for feedback on the test. Click here to leave input on that site.

An open letter to legislators

It’s time to end the testing mania. There is a better solution to ensure that our children are learning and thriving.

America’s fixation on high-stakes testing is denying our children the rich, meaningful education they deserve. Across our country and here in Ohio, test-driven education policies are hijacking public education. The testing fixation is taking time and money from key educational priorities. It is narrowing the curriculum, forcing teachers to “teach to the test.” It is causing unnecessary and cruel stress on children and their families. It is driving excellent teachers out of the profession and undermining school climate.

The thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals and school support staff represented by the Ohio Federation of Teachers have witnessed firsthand the destructive effects of the testing mania. Today, we are seeing the joy of learning disappear as districts cut art, music, sports, social studies and science to focus strictly on math and reading tests. Our students, sadly, are missing out on learning experiences that promote innovation, creativity, problem solving, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge—the skills that will allow our children and Ohio to thrive in the global economy in the coming decades. Meanwhile, an ever-growing body of research has established that standardized testing is woefully inadequate as the central mechanism for capturing student learning. We are devastating our public schools to no end.

To your credit, our Legislature is now attempting to respond to parent and educator outrage about overtesting and to better understand the testing crisis. Unfortunately, recent bills and reports have focused far too much on quick fixes that create even more frustration and confusion, and policy debates have become entangled in the mechanics—which tests to use, how many tests should be given, and how much time should be spent on testing and test preparation. Instead, we need to look at the bigger picture of what we want to accomplish with testing and whether our current system accomplishes it—or needs to be replaced with a proven, comprehensive assessment system, such as those used in high-performing education systems around the world.

Ohio is to be commended for embarking on the first step in taking the debate about testing beyond mechanics. The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing is composed of practitioners in the field who can lend their experience and expertise to making thoughtful decisions to ensure Ohio has an assessment system that supports meaningful learning and student success.

We should not give up on assessment and accountability, but there are far better options than yet more standardized testing. There are assessment systems that truly capture what is happening in the classroom and give students, parents and teachers a clear sense of how well students are learning and achieving.

We cannot reach the right answers if we are asking the wrong questions. To devise a workable solution to overtesting, we need time to take a step back. We urge you, at this time, to put a hold on decisions attached to high-stakes testing for three years while you take the time to convene educators, evaluate the current system and develop a long-term strategy for how to provide a high-quality education for our children.

The attached issue paper on testing is our first step in helping with that process. It offers our professional perspective on how assessments drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further actions. We also offer you experience and expertise from the people in the classroom and in our schools every day. Our members are eager to engage in deep conversations with policymakers on how to improve the current system. Also, the Ohio Federation of Teachers is currently working on a series of issue papers that will clearly and succinctly address the issues involved in testing and accountability. We hope that you’ll read these policy briefs and contact us in order to hear more from our members firsthand.

We can work together to reclaim the promise of public education and bring our schools the true support they need. Ohio needs a rational system of assessment that will benefit the most important people in this discussion: our students. Their future depends on getting this right. Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Melissa Cropper President
Ohio Federation of Teachers

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Below is our list of recommendations for moving forward in our current system. For more detail about each recommendation, please read the report.

1. Pause stakes for three years.
2. Increase transparency and end gag orders.
3. Examine current tests and testing practices.
4. Develop a new approach to testing.
5. Allow local control on determining growth measures.
6. Require that classroom teachers be involved in determining the formative/diagnostic assessment system at the local level.

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