Letter to Ohio State Representatives
Following is a letter that has just been snail mailed to all Ohio state representatives and senators at their home offices. They will be gathering in Columbus in emergency session to approve new legislation that puts them in compliance with NCLB next week. Now might be a good time for any Ohio subscribers to tweak them about the diploma issue. If you are from Ohio, I encourage you to send a copy of this or your own similar comments to your state senator and rep. An abbreviated version of this letter has also been submitted as a Letter to the Editor at 60 newspapers throughout the state.
It seems apparent that there should be no trouble passing House Bill 3 when you return to Columbus next week for special emergency session. However, securing the $400 million in U. S. Department of Education aid by bringing Ohio into compliance with the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) is only the beginning. Ohio legislators have many more decisions to make as we fine-tune our own state education laws to comply with federal guidelines, while still addressing the needs of our students, schools, communities and economy.
Ohio was one of the first states to implement the use of high stakes standardized testing, when it began to employ the Ohio Proficiency Test (OPT) as a determining factor in whether or not individuals would receive diplomas. Each year for many years, Ohio has been denying high school diplomas to hundreds of students who have met all other graduation requirements. The percentage of students who were affected by this was statistically small and has gone mostly unnoticed. My experience has been that the average Ohioan does not know of the "high stakes" involved in this one test.
New laws currently in place in Ohio will introduce the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) as a graduation requirement for the class of 2007 and beyond. I think you will find yourself, as a legislator, in a very difficult position concerning public opinion related to this new test. The standards of the OGT are much higher and will be more difficult to obtain. Numbers of non-passing students are predicted to be in the thousands, as opposed to the hundreds that we see now. You may access a copy of the sample test at ode.state.oh.us/proficiency/OGT/default.asp. Pay particular attention to the math section. Comparison of the OPT and the OGT will quickly illuminate the vastness of the change.
The fallout in New York, Florida and Massachusetts as these states have attempted to implement diploma denial for the first year, with similar high test standards, has been a political nightmare for legislators and state education officials. I urge you to visit the homepage of Marylanders Against High Stakes testing at www.geocities.com/stophsa, which documents the devastation that high stakes testing has wrought in other states. The angry quotes from parents and students are representative of what you will be facing from your constituents in 2007. Is this really what we want for Ohio? Do we want to penalize individual students for a lifetime over hollow, one-size-fits-all testing reforms that create controversy and division even among leading educators?
Aside from the political fall-out, the economic impact of this system on our state should be obvious. Statistics show clearly that non-graduates have substantially less earning power than their counterparts with diplomas. Consider the thousands who will be affected and multiply that number by the loss of annual income over their lifetime and the negative effect on Ohio's tax coffers is undeniable. Additionally, it is likely that many, in addition to not generating income for taxes, will end up on the welfare roll, thus doubly affecting the economy.
The students who meet all other graduation requirements, but cannot pass a graduation test, are diligent, responsible and hard working as they struggle against the odds and their own limits to jump through the hoops of the education system. And yet, in the end, they have nothing that distinguishes them from a drop out.
In Ohio, we can comply with testing requirements of the federal NCLB without penalizing our students and ourselves. Maryland is considering adding this statement to state education legislation to avoid the high stakes effects of standardized testing. "THE STATE BOARD MAY NOT USE PASSAGE OF A SINGLE EXAMINATION OR ASSESSMENT OR A SERIES OF EXAMINATIONS OR ASSESSMENTS AS A REQUIREMENT FOR GRADUATION FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL. I recommend that Ohio pursue this same wording in our legislation.
Polly W. Loy
St. Clairsville, OH
July 30, 2003
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