Staff Editorial 4/13 Test-takers or test subjects?

Throw it at the wall and see what sticks – that has been Ohio’s motto for writing education policy.

From the retirement of the Ohio Graduation Test, to the introduction of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, American Institution of Research (AIR) test, and End of Course exams, to our constantly changing graduation requirements, we have been the subjects of a great deal of both testing, both as test-takers and test subjects.

The Class of 2017 was the last to take the OGT sophomore year, a test responsible for determining whether we were capable of graduating two and a half years later. When the OGT was determined to be inadequate, it was killed off and we were tasked with test-running its replacement: the End of Course exam. We opted out in hordes, trying to avoid spending wasted hours on tests that would have no impact on our education, while at the same time wondering how this set of standards could possibly be the cure-all to the suddenly ineffective OGT.

The Class of 2018, which has three new options to graduate instead of the OGT, was the next set of guinea pigs. Some took a plethora of new tests, some opted out and used their ACT score –  most did not even know the changes were taking place or what their options were. They sat in testing rooms filling in hundreds of bubbles without knowing the purpose of their efforts.

When a legislative body writes new tax policy or regulations on businesses, they can evaluate the impact that it has and repeal if necessary with minimum long-term impact. When the state legislature or Board of Education write new education policy, and after a couple years of implementation they decide it is not effective, students do not get those years back.

The number of hours spent in school is finite. Once our twelve years are up and we graduate, there is no going back to fix anything that could have been broken. No stimulus package or repeal and replace plan can repair an incomplete education. Students do not have the luxury of a redo button; we only have one shot to get it right.

Profits rise and fall, but our learning endeavours are linear. When education policy fails that means we as students are failing with it. If a few years down the road our government decides that the new graduation requirements did not work, we will be done with high school and carrying the burden of an inadequate education. Politicians can then go on and make adjustments to their education agenda, but the victims of their broken policy have already moved on.

Those of us who go to college will face new material and a heightened rigor while wondering how filling in bubbles in high school helped us prepare for it. The countless tests and evaluations made for good data for our state government but did not help students learn. Endless new legislation will not help students grow and prosper; that’s the job of teachers and good school systems which have been traditionally harmed by government overreach.

What schools really need is support, not more restrictions. Yet in Ohio we have been subject to yearly changes in graduation requirements, while simultaneously the new administration at the federal level has proposed cutting funding for education by 13.5 percent. Our government is forcing us to administer additional tests, taking away from instructional time and putting unnecessary stress on students, while planning to cut $2.4 billion from teacher training programs and $1.2 billion from after-school enrichment programs.

Asking school systems to do more with less is not only irresponsible, but damaging to the students who those school systems support. Constant change and cutting resources does not lead to growth – it leads to an education system that consistently ranks below the majority of other developed countries.

So keep passing new laws and testing new policy. Ask students to take a new test every year and ask teachers to sacrifice instructional time to administer them. Keep moving the goalposts, forcing each class to meet a different requirement and making school systems somehow prepare them to do that.

But each time something does not stick and a different policy is enacted know that it’s us students, the next generation to lead this country, who are getting hit the hardest.