An Open Letter: When is enough, enough?

I continue to read news articles about parents, teachers, and administrators that pertain to Ohio’s new assessments that begin the week of February 17. I must admit that I have been trying to rationalize the legislative changes and expectations for many months to no avail, which prompts my writing today.

As an advocate for the students of the Firelands Local School District, I work each day to ensure that we provide a safe, secure, and nurturing learning environment for our students. Unfortunately, I feel that legislative forces are working to destroy the learning environment that we so diligently maintain. The disruptive force of change known as “high-stakes testing” continues to unnerve and bewilder even the best educators across the state of Ohio.

In the last several weeks, some of my colleagues across the state have publically expressed concern pertaining to the legislated testing and assessment lunacy. I write today to echo this concern and to provide our community, our state board of education, our state superintendent, and our education policy makers with feedback from the front lines of education in the form of this open letter.

For the past three years, the teachers and administrators of the Firelands Local School District have worked tirelessly to comply with the moving target we call education policy. I do not have the words to express how proud I am of the hard work of the dynamic group of educators in this District. I am amazed each day by our teachers and administrators because I know that they strive to protect, to nurture, and most importantly, to ensure that our students grow. However, I fear that our educators grow weary. I fear that the continual flux of education policy, accountability, and high stakes testing has created an environment where our best and brightest educators are forced to operate in a high-stress learning environment that impedes the ability to nurture our student’s love of learning.

I am a firm believer in accountability and learning standards. As a matter of fact, I believe in and support Ohio’s New Learning Standards, which in my opinion, provide a framework for a common sense approach to education that is reasonable, flexible, attainable, and one that allows the needed local control to provide an excellent education. However, my definition of accountability and its association with our new learning standards must differ from that of our education policy makers. In the never-ending quest for “accountability” and “education reform,” the policy makers have over emphasized the use of high-stakes assessments that ultimately fail to provide the timely feedback that should drive high-quality instruction. I fear that this high-stakes environment ill-prepares our students as good and productive citizens.

I am also a firm believer in giving every new experience the opportunity to prove its worth, which causes me to take pause in regards to Ohio’s new assessments. How can we bash a test that we have yet to experience? Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to that question. However, I do know that the well-being and growth of our students is of the utmost importance to me and to every educator in this outstanding school district. I am confident that we have prepared our students with the best research proven learning practices, but I am ultimately concerned that the skills and knowledge provided may not be enough to overcome this high-stakes testing environment. I am also uncertain of the value that these tests provide to the growth and learning of our students, as the purpose of assessment is to provide timely feedback that guides instruction, a task devoid of Ohio’s new assessments, at least based on our best estimations.

As the superintendent of the Firelands Schools, I have a duty to uphold the laws of the state of Ohio and I will continue to do so. I do not claim to have the perfect solution pertaining to state assessments. However, I am opposed to the current high-stakes testing environment that was created under the guise of accountability, as opposed to the creation of a system that supports our core mission of ensuring student growth and learning. As a professional educator, I believe that we must move away from a system that is built on high-stakes summative assessments. We must create a system of assessment that is formative in nature and embedded within our instruction. We must ensure that our system of assessments provides valuable insights and data that can be used in a timely manner to progress-monitor and to drive instruction. Ultimately, assessment should provide teachers with the data necessary to ensure positive student growth.

The Firelands community provides a high-quality learning environment and great support for our students. However, due to recent state and federal policy initiatives, I sense growing displeasure and mistrust among our stakeholders. The growing tide must serve as a call to action from our community and a wake-up call to our policy makers. I ask you, “When is enough, enough?” The time to stand up for our students is now and I urge our community to take action. Please contact the governor, members of the House and Senate, the state superintendent, and the state board of education to express your concern pertaining to the moving target of education policy. Please join with me and provide a voice for our children that cannot be ignored.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Bob Hill