​Not a ‘great first step’ at all

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

Recently, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Ohio Paolo DeMaria announced that state lawmakers have eliminated the fourth and sixth grade state-mandated social studies tests for students for the 2017-18 school year. The elimination of these two tests drops the number of high stakes state tests children are forced to take from 16 to 14. In other words, lawmakers have implemented a 12.5 percent reduction in the tests they require of Ohio’s students.

This reduction is less than Superintendent DeMaria had recommended and significantly less than an advisory panel of professional educators had requested. In other words, with their latest “holier-than-thou” act, state politicians continue to ignore research on testing and student achievement as well as the advice of those who actually know something about children and how they are educated. As usual, they have decided to do as they darn well please. Nothing should surprise us about that.

Now, this is where those of us in education have been conditioned to think that our appropriate response to a pathetic action taken by politicians is to genuflect to them, thanking them for improving our lot in life. After all, making a bad law a little less bad is something to be thankful for, right? Superintendent DeMaria reacted just as we have been trained to respond when he suggested that, “This is a great first step.”

To that I say, “Hogwash!” I, for one, refuse to give lawmakers credit for making minor improvements to the ridiculous laws they have previously created when major changes are warranted. The state’s testing program has been a sham since its inception, so making minor improvements is not a “great first step” at all. It is a disgrace, and for Superintendent DeMaria to suggest otherwise shows the lack of leadership one has come to expect from him. His “great first step” comment is one a politician, not an educational expert would make.

Even State Senator Peggy Lehner, who as head of the Senate Education Committee has been directly involved in the implementation of more ridiculous education laws than one can count, suggested in a roundabout way that the changes didn’t go far enough, when she said, “I think with both the advisory committee and superintendent weighing in on this issue, we’ll see additional tests eliminated. I just don’t what the time frame will be.”

In other words, “We know we didn’t go far enough; we’ll probably do more someday; we’ll just do it when we darned well please; we’ll do it not based on any scientifically valid reasons; we’ll do it because we feel like it.” We’re supposed to feel thankful for THAT?

I think not.

To be clear, testing in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, when used correctly, it can be very useful. Test results can provide educators, students, and parents feedback on a child’s academic skill level. They can tell us what skills students have mastered and which they have not. Follow-up instruction can be based on what we learn from those results and students will (hopefully) improve as a result of this process. That’s how test results can be used in a valid manner.

But, as is ALWAYS the case when something gets implemented for political reasons, what is at its core a good idea becomes bastardized to satisfy some politician’s ridiculous personal or political agenda. What reasonable person, for example, believes that the decision about whether or not to move a third grader to the fourth grade should be determined by his or performance on a reading test, as Senator Lehner’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee suggests? Would YOU stand by silently and allow your third grader’s future determined by a single test score? I would certainly hope not!

There is not a shred of valid research that suggests that student test scores are a valid method of evaluating schools, school districts, or teachers. We KNOW, for example, that a multitude of factors independent of the teacher or the school he/she attends contributes to a child’s growth or lack thereof, and we KNOW that test score results are too unstable and unreliable to measure teacher or school performance, yet that is EXACTLY how our politicians use the results. You can’t get much more disingenuous than insisting on continuing an invalid process.

As if that isn’t bad enough, our political “leaders” manage to set their ethical bar even lower by raising the threshold of what they profess to be successful every time students start improving their test scores. Once is appears that kids are being too successful, standards are raised … again. After all, they don’t want schools to appear to be doing a good job, now, do they? Even worse, they perpetuate this sham while claiming that they are doing us a favor by “keeping us informed of how our schools are performing.” They are doing no such thing; their conduct is shameful; but they have no shame.

So, pardon me for not dutifully praising our politicians for taking a “great first step” when they have done no such thing. Continuing to invalidly use fourteen tests under false pretenses is anything but “great.” Shame on the whole bunch of them for holding others to such unfairly high standards while setting such low standards for themselves, and shame on us for continuing to allow them to do so.


Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.