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Discussion Puts Focus on Testing

How can mothers working two jobs be expected to "get involved" in the schools? It is an affront and and an outrage to call their volunteering in the schools a simple solution. Simple-minded more like it.

One student from Akron's Findley Elementary School took the state's standardized test this year after missing 22 days of classes.

Two students came to school wearing wet socks.

And every student's mother was working outside the home, with many holding down two jobs.

Like students in other urban districts, these students came to school facing obstacles that made performing well on tests more difficult.

They also symbolize why, local educators say, there's more to education than just testing.

``Education -- not just proficiency -- is the key,'' said Kathleen Shippy, a third-grade teacher at Findley, who participated in a panel discussion Saturday morning about standardized tests.

``None of us would dispute the fact that assessment is important. But it is not the most important part.''

About 50 people attended the event at Akron's main library hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Akron Area's education committee. The audience included several local educators who came to listen and participate.

Erica Greer, who chairs the committee, said members decided to hold Saturday's discussion after sitting around talking about standardized tests and realizing they had lots of questions themselves.

``The impact of proficiency tests now is so great -- not only on students, but on schools,'' she said. ``It seems like that is the one thing education is riding on -- good or bad.''

Besides Shippy, two long-time Akron administrators also were on the panel -- Sue Long, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and Ellen Goggins, director of testing.

The movement toward standardized testing and accountability began in the late 1980s after employers and colleges complained that many of Ohio's high school graduates couldn't read or write, panelists said.

Ohio later adopted proficiency tests for fourth-, sixth- and ninth-graders and mandated students pass the high school test in order to graduate.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which took effect in January 2002, required every state to test its students in reading and math in grades three through eight and have an exam that measured high school knowledge.

The law also required districts and schools to show progress each year on these tests or face stiff penalties that include allowing students to transfer to a better performing school or moving teachers and staff in a building.

Ohio is now phasing out proficiency tests and replacing them with more frequent ``achievement tests'' designed to gauge whether students have mastered what they need to learn. This year's sophomores will be the first to take the new, tougher 10th-grade Ohio Graduation Test.

Not everything about the increased testing is bad. Goggins said the tests have armed teachers with data they can use to target students who most need extra help.

``The focus is no longer on, `I teach biology,' '' she said. ``Now, we teach the student.''

More tests

Shippy, who has been a teacher for 16 years, read a list of words she would use to describe how she and other instructors feel about the standardized tests. The terms included ``exhausted,'' ``frustrated,'' ``overwhelmed'' and ``blamed.''

Besides the actual standardized tests, Akron teachers are also giving other exams during the school year to measure student progress. In some low-performing schools, Shippy said, teachers have only 77 days during the school year in which they are not giving students some sort of test.

``As citizens, we need to ask: `Is increasing the time testing students and decreasing the time educating the way to better meet students' needs?' '' she said.

The current financial crunch in Ohio has made performing well on standardized tests more challenging, educators said.

Becca Cacioppo, principal of Akron's Forest Hill Elementary, said many districts, including Akron, have increased class sizes to cut costs. She said she would prefer her teachers have 15 or fewer students.

``Smaller class sizes was working,'' she said.

Susan Sarli, a first-grade teacher at Findley, said she has 20 students in her class this year, which makes it difficult to provide individualized attention. She said some of her students can't write their names or recite the alphabet.

Several audience members asked what they could do to help. The answer from the educators was simple: Get involved.

``Come to my school and volunteer,'' Cacioppo said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com

— Stephanie Warsmith
Akron Beacon Journal


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