Dear Ohio’s Board of Education members, Department of Education officials, legislators, and most importantly, Ohio’s parents:
I am a 20-year teaching professional in Ohio and after reading the recent release from the Ohio Department of Education’s “Information on Student Participation on Testing”; I was flabbergasted by the intent of the release. Why? Because the release was written in attempt to bully parents, teachers, and school districts into compliance with standardized testing that has the highest of stakes attached to it. I have taught my middle-schoolers that bullies must be confronted. Therefore, this letter is intended to outline why I, even with my job clearly being threatened in this release, still am encouraging parents to refuse state-mandated standardized tests for their children.
First and foremost, refusing to allow your child to participant in state testing is a parental right guaranteed by the 14th amendment and broadly protected by the Supreme Court (see Meyer and Pierce cases). The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35). The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.). In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (262 U.S. 399).
Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, Ohio’s children are being used as fodder in a system that takes their time and talents for the advancement of corporatization of schools and the profit that they will produce for testing companies. When we stop to think about the amount of monies we as a state put into standardized testing (not just the cost of the test, but also the grading, the professional development, the materials needed, the time spent prepping, the technology needed, the people employed to maintain only the test taking technology – the list is never ending), we as a state are being asked to invest more and more into tests that are devaluing your students and your public schools. Testing costs us all, but costs the students so much more. It devalues them by putting an entire emphasis on one aspect of them and risks their self-esteem – for what gains? I could spend the entirety of this letter showing Supreme Court case precedents, research that proves the harms of standardized tests to children, and the invalidity of Value-Added measures by most research institutes including the American Statistical Association, but instead will try to focus on what I have witnessed in the field.
The reality is this: As a teaching professional, I have had the ability to direct the education of your child taken away from me by the detrimental educational reform policies that are enacted through the use of high stakes testing. I ask that parents exercise their parental rights, because I, as your child’s teacher can no longer guide their education in the way that I see best. Although I know your child and am with your child each and every day (not to mention that I have been awarded a National Board Certification for Professional Teaching and earned my PhD); I cannot fend off the curriculum of high stakes testing that has taken over my ability to give your child the curriculum that they deserve and that I know is the best. I say this knowing that I am one of the most fortunate teachers in the state, because I work in an amazing district that works hard not to acquiesce to the tests. My district does not believe in having extra practice workbooks or online diagnostics and actually supports the work of their teachers. Even in this environment, the curriculum of high stakes testing has taken over our classrooms.
Here’s another unfortunate reality: Even in the best districts, the tests have shaped what a teacher teaches. Why is that? Because it would be criminal for me to not prepare your child for what they are about to encounter. We would never place an infant on their feet and let go without first giving them experiences with crawling, pulling themselves up or down on sturdy furniture, and allowing them to wrap their fingers around ours as they take tentative steps on their own. The same is true with testing. Why as a teacher would I not try to give my students the best shot possible on the tests? If it were just the tests, that would be one thing, but it is also the New Ohio Learning Standards that have been imposed on teachers. These standards were not written by Ohio teachers as they have been in the past, but instead first by a committee made up of mostly testing company representatives and then given to a group of teachers at a national level to “advise” this initial committee. We keep being told that standards are not curriculum, but standards do drive our curriculum – they in essence decide what is important for your child to know, understand, and do. Anyone who purports that the standards are not curriculum, has not been teaching for the last 5 years. What your child needed to know, understand and do was once the responsibility of the teacher with guidance from the state and with the input of the child and parent. The type of standardization we have today misses some very important aspects of the child including developmental abilities, nuances of who they are as a learner, and the curiosities of your child to name just a few. To plan, prepare and execute these standards lessons and preparing for possible questions on the standardized tests, the activities that I once did with children are no longer possible. If you’ve had children in the same school with the same teachers over the last 5-10 years, you have seen this firsthand yourself. First came the loss of field trips that once were part of the school’s culture and rites of passage. Then came the end to problem-based and community-based learning projects, along with class celebrations of learning. Soon school became less a community of learners and instead a place that was more and more worried about how your child has scored on standardized tests. Part of this was due to the lack of funds available for these activities that instead went to test related spending and the other part was due to the loss of time due to new standardized activities we had to do so your child is prepared and not ambushed by the test. I don’t blame teachers or schools, it has become the business of schooling and as outlined in the release from the Department of Education, our jobs and school funding are being threatened into spending our two most valuable resources (time and money) to prepare for it.
So, the bottom line is this: I ask that you stand with me and in support of me (and your child’s teacher), by exercising your right to refuse. It will allow me to go back to directing your child’s education based on their actual needs, not on the needs of the test or a testing company. I say this to you knowing that it will most likely hurt my evaluation. But know this, the testing is ALREADY hurting me and your child so much more. I am willing to take the harshest of punishments doled out by the state, so your child no longer has to be punished daily. Why am I willing to do this? Because I have been forced to be a bystander to this bullying in the past. I have watched over the years as children have cried because they don’t understand a word that is on the test and I am not allowed to help. I have watched children get physically sick because they are worried about how their parents will view them after they see their scores. I have watched as 8 year olds ask if they can bring stress balls into the testing environment (I’m pretty sure that we as adults did not have these concerns when we were 8). I have watched as students beg not to have to take a test that makes them feel so stupid. I have watched as student incidences of seeing counselors due to school anxiety issues rise during testing periods. These are but a few of the things I have witnessed as results of high-stakes testing. I can no longer be a bystander. I cannot in all good consciousness continue to watch our kids being bullied without standing up. Take shots at me, I’m an adult, and I can handle it, but stop allowing the state to take shots at our children by refusing to give them the data they need to continue to bully us all.
Dr. Jocelyn Weeda
PhD Miami University – Educational Leadership, Curriculum, and Culture
Nationally Board Certified Middle Childhood Specialist
Grade 6 – 8 Science Teacher, Centerville City Schools