Standing up by speaking out

We need more time for teaching, not testing, we’re telling legislators and leaders. And they’re listening.

By Becky Higgins, OEA President

03022015-blogAs educators, we know our students might forget the names of the presidents who hailed from Ohio or how to solve an equation. But the lesson we hope they never forget is the love of learning.

What matters most — the joy of discovery, a sense of curiosity, creativity and imagination — will never appear on a bubble test. But it comes to life when a student reads a book, performs music, creates an experiment, or writes a story.

As educators, we support testing as a way to guide student instruction and adapt lessons to a student’s individual needs. But when our students spend more and more class time preparing for and taking state and federally mandated tests, we know something is wrong.

The current system of standardized tests doesn’t provide teachers or students with the feedback or accountability needed to promote student learning and success. And it fails to address problems like ensuring equity and opportunity for all students in our public schools.

High school students in Pickerington now participate in testing on 102 out of the 178 days they are in attendance. Teacher Erin Salzer’s freshmen will miss a minimum of 48 hours of instruction time in order to take assessments. She notes that, in comparison, students who have earned a law degree in Ohio, spend three days taking the bar exam in order to practice law.

Her students are not unique. In classrooms throughout Ohio — and across the nation — students are spending increasingly more time being tested and less time learning.

As we started the school year, I urged members to stand up for all of Ohio’s students by asking questions, sharing ideas, speaking up, challenging assumptions and taking action.

We’re doing just that.

We are challenging the consequences of over testing, misguided support for failing for-profit charter schools, and inadequate school funding. And those who have the power to make change are listening to our concerns.

A group of 12 OEA members from across Ohio recently met with Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard Ross to share the classroom experiences on the impact of excessive testing on student learning.

The educators told him that the over use and misuse of testing is a problem that has taken away from quality learning and teaching time. And, they said, teachers spend more time ‘teaching to the test’ than addressing the needs of their students.

We know, however, that reducing the number of tests being given to our students is an issue that must be resolved not only at the local and state level but also at the federal level.

As Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), members of the House and Senate must recognize that less mandated testing frees up time and resources, creates less pressure to ‘teach to the test,’ and allows educators to focus on instilling a love of learning in students.

With this in mind, Salzer and 13 other concerned OEA members recently joined U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown for a roundtable discussion about the reauthorization of ESEA and the overuse of testing in schools.

Anne Bowles, a teacher in Wooster, told Senator Brown that parents do not send their children to Ohio’s public schools—and teachers do not join the profession—to lose valuable learning time to test prep and over testing and so that data from testing can be used for purposes never intended.

For Adrienne Bowden meeting with Senator Brown was an important step in informing legislators about what the testing environment looks like at the classroom level. Ultimately, she says, the “goal is to improve the quality of education we provide our students.”

Bowles says the opportunity to discuss challenges faced by Ohio’s education professionals and needed changes to ESEA’s pending reauthorization was greatly appreciated and a step in the right direction to ensure that public educator voices are heard at the federal level.

The conversations we have with parents, administrators, community leaders and legislators about education policies and their impact are important. We are now on a path to working with legislators and other leaders toward change that will ease the burden of over testing for our students and our schools. And this is just the beginning.

Each time we speak, we foster an understanding that ensuring success for our students requires the support of everyone. Each time we speak, we create another opportunity to work together to advocate for — and champion — all of Ohio’s students.

We know that all students have the ability to achieve, and we strive to help them succeed each day. I’m proud of what are doing to create the kind of education our students need and deserve and I hope you are too.



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