Sherrod Brown Visits Shaker to Address Testing Concerns

Rise in state-mandated testing sparks SMART Act, a Senate effort to encourage state evaluation of assessments


Mimi Ricanati

Sen. Sherrod Brown, flanked by English teacher Jody Podl and Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., promotes the SMART Act, legislation designed to curb standardized testing in public schools, today during a press conference in the high school’s small auditorium.

Test Mania has reached the U.S. Senate.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown held a press conference today in the small auditorium to inform community members of a Senate bill designed to help states curb the number of tests administered in public schools.

“Students from grades three through eight take on average 10 tests each year,” Brown told the audience, which filled the auditorium. “More of our students’ time should be spent on learning and not on unnecessary and redundant teaching.”

The Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely Act, or SMART Act, would provide grants to school administrations to determine the need for and effectiveness of government-mandated tests. Although, Brown explained, the federal government cannot control what states to do about increased testing, the bill would offer state departments of education support as they evaluate their testing programs.

“The SMART Act would give states and school districts the tools they need to ensure that statewide and local tests are reliable and efficient and will help them eliminate unnecessary, duplicative and redundant tests,” Brown said.

After speaking briefly about the bill, Brown, who said some testing is necessary to ensure school accountability, invited a Shaker teacher and parent to share their experiences with state-mandated tests this year.

English teacher Jody Podl spoke on the negative effects of testing and how they led to the formation of Test Mania, a group created to advocate for change in the current testing culture.

“[State tests] are too long, cutting into time that could be better spent; they siphon away resources; they are questionable in terms of their validity and their appropriateness; they have been muddied by constantly changing directives and policies,” Podl said.

She explained how the focus in schools has shifted from education to testing.

“These standardized tests, which are being used to direct instruction, evaluate teachers and decide the fate of schools, don’t measure all that matters, and even though they don’t measure all that matters, they have become all that matters. That is a discouraging paradox, for sure,” Podl said.

Shaker parent and PTO member Jennie Kaffen talked about how testing diminishes instructional time and does not properly accommodate students who have Individualized Education Plans.

“Children’s IEPs are especially affected. First, because generally intervention specialists determine which tests will be appropriate to determine that child’s growth,” Kaffen said. “The mandates disregard the goals set forth in the IEP documents and require all students to take these tests. This is wrong and harmful to all.”

She also mentioned that during the first round of PARCC assessments that were administered in March, the time her child spent testing added up to more than 15 hours before Kaffen stopped counting.

Kaffen highlighted the difficulties the PTO has had in the past year scheduling enrichment activities for students due to testing conflicts.

The PTO organized a troupe of Native American dancers to perform for elementary school students to go in tandem with a class lesson, but after having to reschedule repeatedly due to testing conflicts, the event was ultimately cancelled.

Brown urged parents, teachers and community members to call their legislators and encourage them to support this bill so that the testing culture can be changed. He said that he expects the bill to pass the Senate as written.

After the press conference, Brown explained that during his time in schools around Ohio, he has spoken with parents, teachers and students who are exasperated with the new testing measures and thus saw the need for change.

“The fact that so many teachers and parents showed up today shows how important this is and how overdone testing does not serve our young people and our education system at all,” he said.

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., who introduced the senator to the audience, echoed the need for a change in testing measures in a post-conference interview.

“I’m definitely in support of the SMART Act. I think it would be extremely beneficial for the school district, and it would also allow us to have supports in determining which assessments we need to support and which ones we need to eliminate,” Hutchings said. “This would be one thing that would boost teacher morale and let teachers know that their voices are being heard and that the state as well as the federal government is listening.”


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