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State Board of Ed Member: It's Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies

District 3 State Board of Education Member AJ Wagner has written this letter to Sen. Peggy Lehner regarding over-testing

Dear Senator Lehner and Members of the Committee:

I am writing to you to share my opinion which is formed by the February 2015 Policy Memo from the National Education Policy Center on "Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies." I urge you to carefully consider the analyses and recommendations in this Memo.

A compelling body of research exists about the problems with test-focused reforms, as described in the Memo. (available online at Key concerns include:

i) Research suggests at least two major problems with test-driven school reforms. First, the tests themselves have validity issues. The resulting scores are only loosely linked to the wide array of topics and depth that we all want for our students. So attaching high stakes consequences to those test scores results in decisions being made on weak data. Second, and probably even more important, when we attach high stakes consequences to test scores we change what and how our children are taught. This is not always bad, since much of what is tested is indeed important. But the overall effect is to narrow our children's learning opportunities, squeezing out important and engaging lessons.

ii) Not surprisingly, then, we now face the failure of more than a decade-and-a-half of test-focused reforms. Even though we've been focusing on the content of our tests and even though we've been preparing students to demonstrate knowledge on tests, the testing trends after No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) implementation are almost identical to the trends before NCLB's implementation. Not only did we come nowhere near the NCLB goal of almost-universal proficiency on standardized tests, we gained no benefit at the cost of broader, deeper learning - and at the cost of pursuing evidence-based practices that could have helped our children.

I urge moving away from test-focused reforms, and to a state role that encourages a focus on sustained and meaningful investments in practices shown to be effective in improving the educational opportunities and success of all students, particularly those in highest need. There are no magic wands, and the formula for success is very straightforward: children learn when they have opportunities to learn; closing opportunity gaps will close achievement gaps. Key recommendations from the Memo include:

i) Assess students, teachers, and schools using frameworks that paint a more robust, accurate, and complex picture, with multiple data sources and scientifically credited methods of analysis. For example, for students, we might look at authentic performance assessments ( assessment), and for schools, we might look at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform's "Time for Equity Indicators" ( or the National Education Policy Center's "Schools of Opportunity" criteria (

ii) Enrich opportunities through proven interventions such as high-quality early-childhood education beginning before birth. Extend learning time in ways that engage students, rather than just more time on drill-and-kill test preparation. Demand more of our schools, but only when providing the supports for students and teachers to succeed. Address problems not only at the level of individuals, but also at the level of systems. Test-focused reforms detract attention from deeper and more systemic factors that can hinder any student's opportunity for success, including such factors as poverty, racial segregation, inadequate resources, narrow and ineffective curriculum and assessment.

iii) Involve students, families, educators, and educational researchers in more substantive ways in decision-making processes involving educational policy and reform. It is particularly important to have powerful, listened-to voices arising from the communities that have been targets of educational reform.

This is a brief summary of the Memo, a document supported by over 2000 researchers and professors from colleges, universities, and other research institutions throughout the United States. I urge you to, please, consider the evidence based practices put forth by the National Policy Education Center.

My prayers and best wishes are with you for these important Deliberations.

Judge A.J. Wagner, Retired
Member of the Ohio Board of Education
District 3

Poll: Voters support charter school reforms ensuring transparency and accountability

A recent national poll is giving lawmakers new incentive to push for charter schools that are more transparent and accountable to students, parents, and the taxpayers who invest in them.

The poll shows overwhelming public support for measures addressing fraud, mismanagement, and poor student performance linked to charter schools. Improving teacher training and qualifications, preventing fraud, serving high-needs children, and making sure that traditional public schools are not hurt by charter schools also received strong support from those surveyed.

The survey, which involved 1,000 registered voters, was released by In the Public Interest (ITPI) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). CPD also released a recent report alleging that tens of millions of dollars have been lost to charter schools nationwide due to fraud and mismanagement.

“$100 million in taxpayer dollars have been wasted and over 100-thousand children attend charter schools that are failing to meet the needs of children,” said Kyle Serrette, director of education at CPD. “It’s time for lawmakers to add stronger oversight provisions before more money is lost and more children are enrolled in failing charter schools.”

Some of the poll’s other key findings include the following:

  • 62 percent of voters want to hold constant or reduce the number charters in their area;
  • 63 percent rate the quality of education at public schools in their neighborhood as excellent or good;
  • 68 percent hold a favorable view of public school teachers; and
  • When it comes to problems facing K-12 education, school choice ranks last.

Overwhelming majorities, some as high as 89 percent, also indicated support for proposals contained in the Charter School Accountability Agenda being pushed by ITPI and CPD. The Charter School Accountability Agenda contains the groups’ solutions for making sure that charter schools fulfill their original purpose—to serve as incubators for new and innovative ways of teaching and learning that could later be adopted by traditional public schools. The proposals are based on standards outlined in the Annenberg Institute’s report for improving charter schools.

Charter school growth has increased exponentially in recent years but critics charge that lawmakers have done very little in developing standards to ensure that these schools give all students a quality education and are accountable to the communities they serve. Currently, more than 2 million students attend the nation’s more than 6,000 charter schools, which make up 6.3 percent of all taxpayer-funded K-12 schools.

Would You Let An Unlicensed Doctor Operate On You?

We highlighted some dangerous deregulation policies in SB3, a bill recently passed by the Ohio Senate. One of those policies would allow high performing districts to employ unlicensed "teachers". Dr. Renee Middleton, Dean of the Patton College of Education, Ohio University issued this warning:

Americans in the twenty-first century accept without question the assumption that doctors must be licensed to practice medicine. But that, of course, has not always been the case, especially in the United States. In the early 1880s, West Virginia became the first state to enact and effectively implement a genuinely restrictive medical license law.

Education and Medicine are at their best when qualified practitioners meet and exceed state standards. That is why standards are so important. When some is “licensed to practice,” it lets the public know that the individual has met a “minimal” standard of practice. While students can fluctuate in their ability, teachers and standards are a constant – or at least they should be. A high bar must be set for those who wish to be “licensed for practice.” Ohio has stood on that belief for over a century.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans are attempting to redefine minimal or acceptable “standards of practice.” Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) are attempting to pass SB3, a bill that deregulates education and the need for a “license to practice.” SB3 would allow for “high-performing school districts” to be exempt from hiring teachers with licenses and credentials currently required throughout the state. Based on data involving arbitrary graduation rates and random performance indicators, roughly 20 percent of school districts in Ohio would qualify as high-performing, with another 50 districts reportedly close to exempt status.

Hite and Faber fail to realize that knowledge of a subject – or even expertise in a subject – does not in and of itself qualify someone to teach. Teaching has a pedagogical science behind it.

If the state does not allow unlicensed drivers on our roads, why would it want to allow unlicensed teachers in our classrooms? Would you, as a parent, send your child to an unlicensed doctor simply because that doctor works at a hospital that is considered high-performing? No, you would not. Teaching is not surgery, but it is brain science, and not everyone is trained or skilled to do it.

If “high-performing” school districts hire non-licensed teachers, they will not be high-performing for very long. In fact, if a district slips below the “high-performing” threshold, its exemptions would be taken away – meaning non-licensed teachers would be teaching in underperforming schools. There simply cannot be sustained excellence without a commitment to professionally licensed teachers.

Through most of the nineteenth century, anyone could call themselves a doctor and could practice medicine on whatever basis they wished. An 1889 U.S. Supreme Court case, Dent v. West Virginia, effectively transformed medical practice from an unregulated occupation to a legally recognized profession.

Teaching is a profession! Federal legislation requires colleges of education to be accredited based on a nationally based set of standards. Ohio requires teachers to be “licensed to practice.” Why? Because teaching is a profession. SB3 would take us back to the 1800s and allow anyone to teach. Do we really want to go there? Studying how individuals learn helps teacher candidates’ transition from sitting in a classroom to standing in front of one. It teaches them how to relate material to students and positively influence student-learning outcomes and academic achievement. It allows them to hit the ground running in a way in which those without the background, training, experience, and pedagogical skills simply cannot do.

Just as we have standards for our students, we must have standards for the profession of teaching. Hiring a non-licensed professional to teach a class may seem innocuous, but it would set a dangerous precedent. Hiring someone without established prerequisites allows for a subjective, “good enough” mindset that will only hurt our state and our students in the long run.

I strongly encourage our state representatives to vote no on SB3, and I strongly encourage you to call your legislator and tell him or her that teaching is a profession and that our children deserve to be taught by professionals.


Renée A. Middleton, Ph.D., Dean
The Gladys W. & David H. Patton College of Education
Ohio University

Voters Everywhere Reject Vouchers

According to data compiled by Edd Doerr of Americans for Religious Liberty, voters in every state when confronted with the opportunitity to weigh in on school vouchers and tax payer funeded private school issues have rejected the idea every time. Here are the results:

  • Nebraska 1970 Tax code vouchers 57-43 against
  • Maryland 1972 Vouchers 55-45 against
  • Michigan 1978 Vouchers 74-26 against
  • Washington, DC 1981 Tax code vouchers 89-11 against
  • Utah 1988 Tax code vouchers 70-30 against
  • Oregon 1990 Tax code vouchers 67-33 against
  • Colorado 1992 Vouchers 67-33 against
  • California 1993 Vouchers 70-30 against
  • Washington State 1996 Vouchers 64-36 against
  • Colorado 1998 Tax code vouchers 60-40 against
  • Michigan 2000 Vouchers 69-31 against
  • California 2000 Vouchers 71-29 against
  • Utah 2007 Vouchers 62-38 against
  • Florida 2012 Vouchers 55-45 against
  • Hawaii 2014 Vouchers 55-45 against
  • Nebraska 1966 Bus transportation 57-43 against (%)
  • Idaho 1972 Bus transportation 57-43 against
  • New York 1967 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 72-28 against
  • Michigan 1970 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 57-43 against
  • Oregon 1972 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 61-39 against
  • Washington State 1975 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 60-39 against
  • Alaska 1976 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 54-46 against
  • Massachusetts 1986 Constitutional change to allow tax aid 70-30 against
  • Maryland 1974 Auxiliary services 56-43 against
  • Missouri 1976 Auxiliary services 60-40 against
  • Massachusetts 1982 Auxiliary services 62-38 against
  • South Dakota 2004 Auxiliary services 53-47 against
  • California 1982 Textbook aid 61-39 against

Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year

Every year, thousands of fresh-faced teachers are handed the keys to a new classroom, given a pat on the back and told, "Good luck!"

Over the next five years, though, nearly half of those teachers will transfer to a new school or leave the profession altogether — only to be replaced with similarly fresh-faced teachers.

We've been reporting this month on the pipeline into teaching — and hearing from teachers themselves about why they stay. Richard Ingersoll, who has studied the issue for years, says there's a revolving door of teacher turnover that costs school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year.

Richard Ingersoll is a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies teacher turnover and retention. He says the constant teacher churn costs school districts more than $2.2 billion annually.

One of the reasons teachers quit, he says, is that they feel they have no say in decisions that ultimately affect their teaching. In fact, this lack of classroom autonomy is now the biggest source of frustration for math teachers nationally.

I spoke with Ingersoll to ask him about his research and what schools can do to fix the problem.

(Read more at NPR)

Senate Passes Contentious Testing and K-12 Deregulation Bill

On March 25, the Ohio Senate passed SB3 along party lines. This omnibus education bill has a number of components. Testing, evaluations, deregulation and some other miscellaneous provisions.

Here's a breakdown of the major components

  • Exempts qualified school districts from several requirements of current law regarding teacher qualifications under the third-grade reading guarantee, teacher licensing, mentoring under the Ohio Teacher Residency Program, and class size restrictions.
  • Qualifies a school district for the above exemptions if, on its most recent report card, the district received (1) at least 85% of the total possible points for the performance index score, (2) an "A" for performance indicators met, and (3) at least 93% and 95% for the four-year and five-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, respectively.
  • Qualifies for an alternative resident educator license an individual who has not completed coursework in the subject area for which the individual is applying to teach.
The provisions are asinine. They eliminate all the regulations that made a district high performing in the first place. What parent wants to send their child to a high performing district where class sizes are very large and being taught by unlicensed amateurs? What district wants that? Even the President of the Senate admits as much in a Dispatch article
“I understand the angst of saying we’re going to open it up willy-nilly to let the superintendent hire his brother to teach physics,” he said. “The superintendent has got to be responsible. The school board that is elected needs to be responsible for that decision.”

  • Limits the cumulative amount of time spent on the administration of state assessments to 2% of the school year beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Limits the cumulative amount of time used for taking practice or diagnostic assessments used to prepare for state assessments to 1% of the school year beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Exempts from the time limitation assessments administered to students with disabilities, diagnostic assessments for students who fail to attain a passing score on the third-grade reading guarantee, assessments used to identify gifted students, and for alternatives to certain end-of-course examinations.
  • Eliminates the current requirement that school districts and schools administer diagnostic assessments to students in grades one through three in writing and mathematics, but retains diagnostic assessments for kindergarten students and reading assessments for students in grades one through three beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Requires that school districts and schools administer the English language arts assessment to third graders at least once annually, instead of twice as under current law, beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.
It's a pity that the Senate can't wait for their own panels investigation and recommendations on addressing the testing overload crisis before passing these vague measures.

  • Modifies the alternative framework for teacher evaluations, beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, by increasing (to 50%) the teacher performance measure, decreasing (to 35%) the student academic growth measure, and permitting districts and schools to use a combination of specified components for the remainder of each evaluation.
  • Prohibits student academic growth from accounting for more than 35% of each principal evaluation, beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, if the State Board of Education prescribes a state framework for principal evaluations.
  • Requires the State Board, by July 1, 2015, to take the necessary steps to modify any framework it prescribes for the evaluation of principals in order to comply with the bill's provisions.
  • Specifies that if the State Board prescribes an assessment for participants in the Ohio Teacher Residency Program, each district or school may (1) require the participant to pass that assessment, or (2) assess the participant using the participant's annual teacher evaluation.
These measures are heading in the right direction, but still less reliance on student growth measures is needed to create an evaluation framework that will improve educator quality.

  • Requires the School Facilities Commission, by December 15, 2015, to develop and submit to the General Assembly a legislative proposal assisting school districts to receive funding under the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program.
  • Increases the competitive bidding threshold for school building and repair contracts from $25,000 to $50,000.
  • Removes a requirement that the State Board adopt a measure, to be reported separately from the district's or school's report card, for the amount of extracurricular services offered to students.
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