Following the state’s release of so-called school “report cards” today, state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), the House Democratic Caucus education lead – is releasing the open letter below to all statewide news editors and education reporters:
“The floggings will continue until morale improves.” This famous line attributed to Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty has also been used to summarize the state of contemporary education policy. Now that the federal government has recognized the flaws inherent in trying to promote learning through punishment and set a new course with the more flexible Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Ohio could also right our course. Instead, Republicans and the Ohio Department of Education are more than doubling-down on the punishment strategy by delivering six letter grades in a gimmick known as the state school report card.
Federal law does not require this shipwreck (one local superintendent described this year’s state report card as a train wreck). To be direct, there is no educational value to combining varying kinds of test scores and applying arbitrary cut offs in order to assign letter grades. There is no communication value to parents and community members when a 32-page guide must accompany the new report cards in order to comprehend what is being measured.
The problem in Ohio is there is no consistency. Measurements meant one thing last year and something completely different this year. The measurements themselves do not reflect student learning. They capriciously and arbitrarily punish districts, even when student success is demonstrative. Is it any wonder that schools are staging mutinies by releasing their own quality indicators and their own report cards?
ESSA provides the opportunity for districts to choose from a menu of tests that they would like to use and for the state to drop the number of state tests significantly. It also calls for parents, students and teachers to engage in determining what they think is important for school quality, while focusing on student-centered improvement.
Oklahoma has reset testing to federal minimum levels in order to spend more time on student learning. Other states provide just as much information to the public or more, but organize the material in a more accurately descriptive, comprehensible format. But in Ohio, instead of talking about the true flexibility of the new federal law, ODE is telling us to “stay the course” and stick with a destructive status quo. And the results have been terrifying.
Under the current crew’s navigation, Ohio’s national education standing has tumbled from fifth under then-Governor Ted Strickland to 23rd today, according to analysis by Education Week. During the same time, the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows the number of Ohio children in poverty has increased from 18 percent to 23 percent. More, Education Week identifies Ohio as 43rd in the nation in the testing achievement gap between children in poverty and their higher-income classmates. Even with these challenges, we still have a chance to correct the course toward improvement and success.
Earlier this year, many education experts sent up a red flag of warning about state report cards, and called for safe harbor. I believe Ohio should maroon the gimmicky grade cards, and allow districts the full flexibility offered under ESSA. We should focus on student learning instead of on trying to convince teachers, students and parents that we’re charting the right course, when in reality we’re headed straight for the rocks. There is a crisis brewing in student graduation rates, in over-testing and in our ability to attract and retain highly educated teachers.
The GOP’s public education privateers should put our children’s success first by making these gimmicky punishments walk the plank. They need to get serious about resetting testing in Ohio with the flexibility of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
We have spent too long with gimmicks that support the egos and ambitions of politicians, and not long enough with methods that support classroom achievement.
-State Rep. Teresa Fedor (Toledo)
A former early-childhood educator, Fedor is an outspoken proponent of public education and serves as the highest-ranking Democratic member of the House Education Committee.