With a new school year approaching, and President Obama’s term coming to an end, talk of education reform and how to create quality education for all has been a subject of concern for many Americans.
Ohio implemented the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative during the school year 2013-14. Adopting these standards for English and math allowed Ohio to receive federal funding from the Race to the Top program, which dedicated “over $4 billion to 19 states,” according to The White House. Ohio received $400 million for becoming an early adopter and $206 million went to participating school districts, while the remaining $194 million was spent by the Ohio Department of Education. The ODE claimed the money was used on numerous things to “enhance” the quality of education. This included data systems, which provided various testing for students, and a way to create accountability for teachers and principals that were guided by the standard based curriculum.
To measure the success of students in math and English who were taught under CCSS, the Partnership for Assessment of readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam was given to students ranging in the grades 3-8. After Ohio spent $26 million on the tests and hours of ODE staff time, many students opted out of or refused the test. The PARCC exam was only used for one year before it was replaced by another high-stake test. This replacement raises questions about how Ohio and many other states are choosing standard-based curriculums, how time is wasted in prepping for these high-stake tests, and how appropriately states are choosing to measure student achievement and evaluate teacher effectiveness.
Ohio’s student achievement is a reflection of how effective a teacher is and is considered in yearly teacher evaluations. One method used to evaluate teachers is based on student growth, which is logical to include when determining a teacher’s effectiveness. The problem lies within the Ohio state value-added system that is used to measure student growth. The value-added system is a statistical model that estimates a teacher’s contribution to their students’ learning over a school year by comparing past and present high-stake test results such as the flawed PARCC exam. This process becomes unreliable when new test scores are compared to a completely different test from the past. A student who has done well on a past test may do poorly on a newly implemented test. Does this mean a teacher is less effective than they were last year? No. It is possible that this could be the case, but the unreliability of such results makes a value-added score merely a number that cannot serve a purpose. According to the Carnegie Foundation, when new tests are introduced, it creates greater variability, which creates data that cannot be easily interpreted to measure student growth or enhance the development of a teacher, which should be the main reasons testing and evaluations are given.
As education in the U.S. puts an overwhelming amount of value on high-stake testing for both student and teacher, the quality of education declines. The value-added score affects a teacher’s salary, which influences the way a subject is taught. Teachers may choose to put less emphasis on valuable topics because it is not on the end-of-the-year exam, as well as attempt to make time to spend on practice exams.
An average student will take 112 mandated standardized tests during their school career, according to a 2015 Council of the Great City Schools study. This lifelong emphasis on testing puts unnecessary pressure on a child, creating anxiety and physical ailments. This has happened enough times that a procedure for how to handle when a child vomits on a test booklet has been implemented in the Ohio Achievement Assessment Administers Hand Booklet. If this isn’t a reason to decrease high-stake testing, maybe the effect it has had on removing quality teachers from the work field is.
Stacie Starr, a ninth grade intervention specialist in Ohio who was selected as the “Top Teacher” in a 2014 national search by the popular TV show “Live with Kelly and Michael,” quit her career. Starr states, “Teachers now have to spend too much time teaching kids to take and pass tests.”
When the U.S. takes a look at the top-performing countries, in order to compare educational systems, the U.S. should look to Finland, where high-stake testing is unheard of, yet the country is a top performer in national testing for 15-year-olds. Education policies in Finland concentrate more on school effectiveness than teacher effectiveness. This creates an environment that realizes it takes an entire community to create quality education, and a teacher can only do so much. Finland has created a national core curriculum for basic education, but unlike CCSS, it includes more than just two core subjects. This curriculum emphasizes that it takes more than reading and math to become career-ready by setting standards that include many subjects including multiple types of science, art, religion, music, geography, all the way to home economics. This curriculum doesn’t state how the students should be taught or assessed on the standards, but that they must be assessed, whether it is formal or informal. This gives teachers the autonomy to assess in an appropriate manner and perfect their craft of teaching. Low-stake testing creates low pressure for the students and the assessments are used as a tool for professional development, as well as to help teachers gauge student growth. It is never used for accountability.
As the U.S. moves into another school year, the country needs to consider how high-stake testing is ruining education by increasing teacher turnover rates and undermining students’ achievement in the classroom. The U.S. needs to look for other ways to assess the quality of a school and not just a teacher. The educational system must create tools and programs to support teachers and their lifelong careers, as well as provide data that enhances professional development without accountability testing. The future is at stake and the U.S. will be the one accountable, whether a change is made or not.
Brittany M. Peters is a Piqua resident and a student at Edison State Community College.