Fewer Tests, Better Culture: Ohioans Chime In About New School Standards

Paolo DeMaria spoke with stakeholders at meetings across Ohio. [photo: Michelle Faust/ ideastream]
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by Michelle Faust
(Ohio Public Radio Reporters Kabir Batia and Jerry Kenney contributed to this story.)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind. The legislation gives states their own say in how they implement ESSA with input from their communities. The Ohio Department of Education recently held 10 stakeholder meetings across the state to get the public’s views on education.

At ten different meetings between August and October more than 12 hundred Ohioans sat at round tables, eating crudité, and talking about the future of the state’s education system.

Teachers and administrators spoke out about Ohio’s multiple jumps between standardized tests, and a concern that tests were taking up too much learning time.

Alicia Crowe teaches Education at Kent State University. At a meeting in Akron, she explains the results of this on her college students.

“They were very good taking direction but not handling ambiguity by thinking on their own, outside of what the directions were or what was tested,” says Crowe.

Parents also came forward to express their concerns about an over emphasis on standardized testing.

“I hope that there’s clarity and we're not just teaching to the test, but truly using assessments that's going to measure what the child is learning. And we're all individuals that we need to keep that in mind,” says Lynn Wrice-Head a mother who attended a meeting in Lorain County.

Her daughter Lakoya Head, a senior at Lorain High School, says she doesn’t feel like all of her teachers are fully engaged in student learning.

“If they start catering to our needs and the different learning styles, then our grades will become higher and our overall report card for our district will also raise,” says Head.

Her mom adds that sometimes the problem is related to cultural misunderstandings between students and teachers—who may not come from the same communities and backgrounds. The idea was also expressed at a meeting in Cleveland.

“They don't see a lot of themselves represented in the classroom anymore and some of those cultural differences lead to misunderstandings that sometimes are deemed behavior problems when they really are not they’re just cultural differences,” says Rhonda Hills who is on the parent advisory board at Wilson Elementary School where her daughter goes to school.

While the new federal law still requires standardized testing, it does allow for states to look at other measures, including school culture.

According to Philanthropy Ohio—which sponsored the ESSA events—about a quarter of the people who signed-in called themselves community members. Less than 10 percent were parents.

About half of the people who turned up were teachers and administrators. Representatives from teachers unions were at all 10 meetings. Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, says the questions asked in the meetings were very technical.

“My preference would have been that we had months ago more of the conversation around what have we seen happening in education, what been some of the challenges of teachers, students, parents, community members have faced, what would we like to see for our children and then how do we fit that was in an ESSA framework,” says Cropper.

Conversations at all of the meetings often centered around changes in Ohio’s education system.

“A lot of churning, a lot of feelings that we're changing things every year. you know. new rules. new tests. new standards. Et cetera. Et cetera. And there has been a lot of disruption in the system,” says Peggy Lehner, Ohio Senate Education Committee Chair.

At a meeting in Dayton, Lehner says people are simultaneously requesting change and more stability. “You know? They’re sitting here saying don't change on stuff on us, but you need to change this. So, that’s kind of a challenge but I think we’re up to it.”

Philanthropy Ohio will use reactions collected around the state to write a whitepaper. The non-profit will present the report to the Ohio State Board of Education during its November meeting.

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