"Our legislators need to trust our educators, our community, our local boards of education, and our educational leaders to do what is in the best interest of our students."
Stow-Munroe Falls Superintendent Tom Bratten is among a large number of area superintendents who are looking to be a part of the solution for positive education reform in Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Education recently released a draft on how it will implement the federal government's new criteria in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which will replace the No Child Left Behind. The state's draft of compliance with the federal ESSA aims to guide student testing, course standards and other school-related issues.
The 118-page report includes descriptions of the state's learning standards; an explanation of testing requirements; descriptions of the state's goals for student performance and improvement; outlines of how the state supports struggling schools and districts; and a review of report cards and other measures to inform about school progress.
Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction, said the hope is that communities will review the plan, offer comments and continue to take part in the process to draft a final version, to be in place by the 2017-18 school year.
"They can give us feedback," he said. "If they've got strong opinions we want to hear them. We really want to hear from people so that we can process their input and have the absolute best plan possible going forward."
He added in a released statement, "We've already received many comments from Ohio's educators, parents and community members on the draft overview. With everyone's continued engagement, we'll make significant strides in improving opportunities and outcomes for students in our state."
But Bratten and the Akron Area School Superintendents' Association are not optimistic.
According to the Association, the state has been hosting regional meetings and webinars that allowed educators, parents and community members to voice their opinions. However, says the Association, its members "are alarmed that the feedback gathered during these stakeholder meetings does not appear to have been included in Ohio's plan."
"I have personally attended a rally in Columbus with 300 other frustrated superintendents and board members to continue to fight the fight. I have signed off on petitions and letters to our legislators and state board of education. Did it work?" says Bratten. "All you have to do is look at Ohio's draft of ESSA to see the resounding answer of 'No.'"
Federal law still requires accountability from states and local districts that public school students are being taught appropriately and being prepared for future college coursework and careers.
That means Ohio's new plan still requires testing in reading, mathematics, science and other standards, but the state will set those standards rather than being required to meet a plan mandated by the federal government.
"What is currently happening is not what's best for kids and never will be. The over-reliance on testing has made the education for our students and teachers something that is stressful, unproductive, and has taken what should be a child's most memorable years and has made it a time they just have to get through," Bratten says. "The amount of tests, in my opinion, has done nothing but shown our teachers that people don't trust that they're teaching students the right things, that they don't assess them enough or in the right ways on their own, and it has told our students that their worth as a student is based on the level they achieve in a pressure situation multiple times a year in some cases."
He adds, "When we asked for reduced number of tests and test consistency, we get back a response for one--test consistency; no reduction in the number of tests. That's not good enough for our students or teachers. We are told things like 'If they aren't tested formally in some particular area, the teachers won't teach it.' Really? Our teachers would stop teaching history in fourth grade because the state isn't testing it? That's ridiculous."
"ESSA presents a golden opportunity to return educational decisions to the state and local levels," said Walter Davis, president of the Association and superintendent of Woodridge Local Schools. "As educators, we have the chance to create assessments and accountability measures that benefit students and truly reflect the needs of Ohio's children today and into the future. Again, we appreciate the efforts of the Ohio Department of Education in its draft document addressing Ohio's plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. We are encouraged by the department's continued focus on educating Ohio's children; however, we believe that areas must be addressed before the plan is submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for approval."
Following the comment period, which runs through March 6, the state will forward the documents to federal officials in April for their review and final approval.
"I sure hope that message finally hits home sooner rather than later because we are going in the totally wrong direction to the detriment of our staff and students," says Bratten. "Right now, we are not doing what's right or best for our children."
For details on the proposal or to give feedback, visit http://education.ohio.gov/.
Editor's note: Reporter April Helms and State Bureau Chief Marc Kovac contributed to this story.