The Great Debate rages on

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

Sometime this summer — and I have to admit I’m not sure just when — the Ohio Department of Education released student test scores from the state-mandated tests Ohio’s public school students were forced to take in the spring. The reason I can’t pinpoint the exact time they were released is because I didn’t look at them. I also won’t look at the school district report cards that will be released sometime this school year because they will tell us nothing we don’t already know. I also will ignore them because they will incorrectly use these same test results to, as the folks in Columbus like to say, “Show you how your school district is performing.” I will ignore them, because they do no such thing.

Now, I can just hear state lawmakers expressing their disgust with my irresponsible response to this information, citing it as just one more example of an educator who refuses to “be held accountable” for my work, as they love to say. They have sung this same refrain about anybody who dares to challenge their idiotic educational policies, and, for good measure, they resort to trying to discredit those of us who dare step out of line. The fact is, using data in an invalid and dishonest way to “prove” a point, as they have done for more than two decades now, has nothing to do with my accountability. Theirs maybe, but not mine.

Test results have one meaningful purpose, and that is to provide teachers with immediate feedback on what their students are, or are not, learning, what they need reviewed, what needs to be retaught, and what has been mastered. (Note, I used the term “immediate.”) The data is particularly meaningful when teachers can see the specific strengths and weaknesses of each individual student as soon after the test is administered as possible. They can then use this information to guide their teaching. That is their value. The fact that test results are received in the summer, long after children are gone, would appear to make achieving this goal of immediacy rather problematic, wouldn’t you agree?

What test results should never be used for is as a tool of evaluating your effectiveness as a parent, the worth of your child, or the competency of the teacher he/she has or the effectiveness of the school building or school district he/she attends.

Fortunately, lawmakers haven’t resorted to blaming parents for their children’s performance, but they never hesitate to use the information to evaluate teachers and schools all the time.

In other words, by completely misusing the testing system they have developed, lawmakers have created a system that has wasted hundreds of millions of our tax dollars, then they have exacerbated the problem by telling us they do so to “Let you know how your schools are performing.” That is a very expensive misrepresentation of the facts.

I can give you a perfect analogy that will show you how ridiculous this concept is.

Let’s say you are experiencing some out-of-the ordinary health issues that are confounding your physician, so he/she orders diagnostic tests to try to determine just what the problem is. Assuming everything goes as it should, the doctor receives the results in a matter of days; sometimes in a matter of hours; other times immediately. Your test data provides your doctor with the essential information that informs him or her not only what your malady is, but its severity as well. With this information in hand, he/she has a greater chance of determining the course of treatment that gives you the greatest chance at a full recovery. That is how it should work.

But if lawmakers controlled the world of medicine in the same manner they control education, the scenario would unfold much differently.

The doctor would receive your test results a few weeks after your visit to the lab; certainly far too late for any treatment to begin in a timely manner. At about the same time your doctor received your results, they and the results of many other patients under his or her care would be released to the public. For good measure, the results from patients and doctors all around the state would be released as well so they could be prominently published on the front page of your local newspaper, so we could compare the data in an attempt to see “how your doctor is performing.” This publication of data could then generate inane discussions about the competency of Ohio’s physicians, and laws could be created that would “fix” these bad, bad doctors. Of course, none of this would be valid in any way, but who cares as long as lawmakers can convince us that they are doing this to protect us by “holding doctors accountable?” God knows, our health can’t possibly be impacted by our genealogy, our lifestyle choices, our environment, or plain, dumb luck, can it? It HAS to be the doctor!

Can you imagine the American Medical Association’s response to such lunacy?

So, in the coming weeks when the great debate begins anew on the front pages of newspapers around Ohio about “how your school is performing” based on how children as young as eight years old do on tests, I hope you do as I will do.

Skip that story and go straight to the funny pages. At least the things written there are supposed to be a joke.

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.