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Ohio Business Roundtable

The March 8 Dispatch editorial headlined "The common-sense test'' offered some common sense but also some not-so-common sense about the tests that are used to measure student performance in Ohio.

Let's start with what made sense. The Dispatch argued, "The time has come to ask whether they (the tests) are being used realistically and for the right reasons.'' Amen. Tests can do more than measure student achievement. Properly designed and used, tests can be valuable tools for measuring the academic growth of individual students and for helping educators design appropriate interventions to help students improve.

Knowing this, we must insist that schools measure the progress of each student and each group of students from where they started. Why? Because the way to improve achievement is to improve progress. This is the only way we can ensure that tests are used as tools of improvement, not weapons of punishment.

Where we see things differently from The Dispatch is in regard to the role that new federal legislation can play in making this happen. We believe that the testing regimen required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act offers an opportunity for educators to make critical instructional decisions based on student performance data from annual tests that fairly, consistently and accurately measure each student's progress, from one year to the next, toward achieving state standards. That is common sense.

That realization is at the core of our advocacy for "value-added'' measures of student performance. Students across Ohio enter each grade level in school with great variability in skills and knowledge. The real challenge for schools is how to "add value'' to students from where they enter and how to help them move to higher levels of achievement relative to where they begin.

We believe The Dispatch mischaracterized the No Child Left Behind Act by saying that the legislation "builds on the illogical premise that a school's performance is based primarily on the school itself, rather than the students contained within its classroom walls.'' The truth is schools matter a lot.

Why is value-added measurement so important? Consider this example: The Dispatch acknowledged the achievement of Winterset Elementary School in Columbus, where 82.6 percent of the school's fourth-grade students passed the state's reading proficiency test in 1998, 100 percent passed in 1999 and 73.3 percent passed in 2000.
Br> The Dispatch was right in suggesting that the school hadn't necessarily gone backwards, but that the kids had changed. Different years, different fourth-graders.

The fact is, however, the very best performance might have been the class that achieved a 73.3 percent passing rate. How could that be? Because unless you know where those kids started, you don't know how much they've really achieved and how much they've progressed in any given year.

Battelle for Kids, which was created by the Ohio Business Roundtable with support from Battelle to champion improved student achievement in Ohio, is advocating for the inclusion of a progress dimension in Ohio's accountability system. Under Executive Director James W. Mahoney, Battelle for Kids is working closely with 42 school districts in Ohio, including Columbus Public Schools, to devise just such a "value-added'' accountability system.

The Ohio Business Roundtable strongly supports the No Child Left Behind Act. At the same time, we understand that it's difficult to measure all aspects of the factors that go into educating students. As The Dispatch notes, test results are an important factor but certainly not the only factor.

Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.'' It's difficult to measure the impact of a teacher's persistent encouragement, a principal who expects more or a coach who motivates kids, but we've all seen their power. We need to acknowledge these important qualities in educators and their impact on students.

For many years, The Dispatch has been a forceful, yet reasoned, voice for change in improving our schools. With The Dispatch's voice of encouragement, Ohio is finally aligning its accountability system to match its tests with clear standards for what students should know and be able to do -- something the state proficiency tests never did.

Is No Child Left Behind perfect? Of course not. Is it better than what we had? Yes. While not all change is progress, there cannot be progress without change. The new law is helping to drive needed change while offering a golden opportunity for Ohio to bring real meaning to those four simple words: No Child Left Behind. That's common sense.

Richard A. Stoff
President, Ohio Business Roundtable

Richard Stoff would like people to believe this is "common sense." Ohio parents Jenny Rytel and Mary O'Brien and think differently. Read their response below.

From: Jenny Rytel & Mary O'Brien: Columbus, Ohio.
Date: April 1, 2003

Re: March 29 letter "Measuring performance is vital to improving education."

The Business Roundtable¹s masterful propaganda in recent years has gotten the public to buy-off on the standardized testing that has been shoved down our children¹s throats. The sales pitch is always couched in half -truths that the unknowing public would never disagree with. The reality of the negative effects this ³test tyranny² has had on our classrooms, children and our communities are always dismissed, demeaned or made to seem unimportant. We're very tired of being bullied.

When, how and what is taught is now determined by state and federal political bureaucracies. The tests cover five subject areas, not just reading as Mr. Stoff would like you to believe. Does anyone truly believe that a political bureaucracy will lead us to superior education? Currently, we have a conservative government and what is taught in school reflects the ideology of that group. Standards-based education IS an ideology. When the pendulum swings back to the left, as it always does, the state curriculum will swing to the left. Our children are now subjected to whichever ideology is in power in state government at the time.

Now that local control of curriculum has been taken away, flexibility is gone and problems with it are intractable and caught in a quagmire of red tape. For example, there have been many developmentally inappropriate curricula on the fourth-grade tests for nearly nine years. Teacher, student, and parent complaints are ignored because there is no system or policy in place to change curricula when there is a problem. After all, we¹re talking about a bureaucracy here.

This lack of responsiveness is because the Business Roundtable and other major business organizations have paid lobbyists who have written most of the legislation for the current testing systems in nearly every state in the US and in many countries abroad. Take a look at their websites or call them--they are very proud of this new means of bureaucratic, top-down control.

In the Summer of 2000, The Ohio Business Survey to determine how Ohioans felt about the testing. We witnessed Nancy Belden, the company owner, present the findings of the survey to Governor Taft. She summarized the findings by saying that Ohio parents were very angry about the testing. The Ohio Business Roundtable¹s response: They wrote and then lobbied to pass legislation that increased the amount of testing and State control

Now there will be "No Child Left Untested" act. These tests are "value added"--is the propaganda spin for this new assault on our children. Did you know that preschoolers are next on the schedule in the test-tyranny pipeline?

Parents and dedicated teachers firmly believe in assessment on a frequent basis to evaluate how children and teachers are doing. High quality schools have always done this. But it is common knowledge among professional educators and attentive parents, that the very lowest quality assessment tool one can use to drive instruction is a standardized test. When you push education with this mediocre tool, you get mediocrity.

Standardized tests have been imposed on us because big business is the power broker in government and parents and children don¹t have lobbyists. When did big business become the all-knowing experts on education? Would you like to see teachers, parents and students on your boards of directors telling you how to run your businesses? It is just as idiotic.

— Richard A. Stoff
Measuring performance is vital to improving education
Columbus Dispatch

March 29, 2003


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