ODE shifting rhetoric in wake of scandal

It's hard not to feel dizzy with all the spinning that is occurring in the wake of the brewing attendance scrubbing scandal ODE is embroiled in. Stan Heffner, the State Superintendent appears to have taken a new position, when the fallout from the high stakes are pointed at his department

With all the mania about improving student test scores, and now the apparent cheating on school-attendance reports, state schools Superintendent Stan Heffner says there’s too much emphasis on district report cards.

“If you focus on doing right by kids, you’ll do OK on your report card. But if you worry about doing well on your report card first, there is no guarantee that your kids are getting what they need,” Heffner said yesterday following remarks about Ohio’s education system before the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

“The report card over time has just taken on way too much importance.”

Just a little over 2 months ago, he had quite the opposite view, in testimony to the House education committee

We should not let the failure of Congress to reauthorize ESEA stop us from seizing the chance to secure a waiver to implement common sense reforms. The new system will change the standard by which schools are judged – moving from mere minimum competency to needed college and career readiness for all students. This means raising the bar, and some schools and districts may initially not look as high performing in the new system. Change can be difficult, especially when districts and schools have been told for years that they are "Excellent" or "Effective." Last year, over half of Ohio’s schools were rated "Excellent" or "Excellent with Distinction.” Yet, 40% of Ohio graduates entering our public universities required remediation before taking first-year, credit-bearing courses in English and mathematics.

It is unfair to students and their families not to provide them with a complete assessment of their academic progress. And, it is unfair to fault local educators who are working hard and have responded to the current system that the state has given them. When the new Local Report Cards are released, parents and the community will have a clearer and more comprehensive view of how their schools impact student performance.

Not a word uttered about the report card taking on too much importance, indeed, he was testifying in order for the report card to take on even more importance. Why the sudden change of heart? Toledo Public Schools might be hinting at the answer

When TPS officials first acknowledged the test score manipulation, they argued that state direction was unclear. Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, said Friday that the test reporting process has been confusing for years, with rules at times unclear or directions inconsistent.

"I don't have any indication that TPS has done anything that was not fully communicated back and forth with folks within ODE, and certainly internally," Mr. Yates said. "I don't think [ODE direction] has been clear, and I don't think it's been consistent."

District officials point to past publicity about removals of test scores, called scrubbing, that they say failed to produce inquiry or direction from the education department, as evidence the department never clearly opposed the practice.

Has ODE, yet again, been asleep at the switch when it came to oversight responsibilities, or worse still, allowing the scrubbing with a wink and a nod?

Whatever all the ongoing investigations discover, Stan Heffner is not the only one having second thoughts about the shift to high stakes, Rep Stabelton, the chair of the House education committee is too

Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster), who is leading the process to develop the report card change, said he agrees with Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner's comment earlier this week that the report card might be becoming too important and is pressuring districts to achieve a high ranking.

"I don't disagree with that," he said in an interview. "I think what we need to focus on is educating these children and educating them to the best of our ability using a maximum amount of school time to do that as opposed to, perhaps some districts are choosing to direct their focus primarily to achieving a good score on a test. That's probably not a good idea.

"I think if you're directing, especially in elementary grades, if you're directing your attention to achieving a passing grade on a test, you're probably losing the culture of an excellent classroom where the culture breeds creativity and breeds a desire for learning as opposed to repetition."

Every policy prescription being passed or proposed over the last two years has been focused on the high stakes need to pass one form of test or another. Whether it's for a 3rd grade reading guarantee or a teachers career impacting evaluation.

Now we need to wait and see whether this new change of heart when it comes to school ratings is going to be reflected in new legislature, or whether policy makers and their enablers are going to have short memories, and long brooms with which to sweep the current imbroglio under the rug.