A view of standardized tests from a father and a school leader

Our country wasn’t founded on how well our students performed on standardized tests, says Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Tony Orr. “We have thrived because of our intelligence, creativity, determination, and grit,” he writes.

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Our country wasn’t founded on how well our students performed on standardized tests, says Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Tony Orr. “We have thrived because of our intelligence, creativity, determination, and grit,” he writes.

It’s an interesting life I live. By day I’m Hamilton City Schools’ superintendent. However, when I get home late at night I am a husband and the father to our fourth-grade daughter. When I arrived home the other evening, I walked into a familiar scene. My wife was sitting at the table next to our daughter whose eyes were red and cheeks were flush.

They were working on homework, I guessed. This time they were trying to conquer fractions. Those of us in our 50s would agree that many of the questions she is expected to answer are pretty straightforward. Admittedly, many of them are not.

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Standardized math tests no longer simply measure a student’s mathematical ability. State math tests are also reading tests and technology literacy tests. Students in fourth grade must master operations and algebraic thinking, number and operations in base ten and fractions, measurement and data, and geometry. However, given the multiple tasks in each question, students must read more carefully than ever if they are to successfully navigate a math question. It is not simply solving an equation.

Further, because students complete all state tests online, they must be technologically adept, able to manipulate split screens, pull down menus, and drag and click techniques. Did I mention that this begins for Ohio students at the age of 8 years old? So the questions continue regarding the effectiveness and purpose of standardized state tests. What are they actually measuring and are the tests a more accurate measurement of student performance than what our teachers assess?

Simply put, the State of Ohio has us doing it all wrong.

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Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: HANDOUT

Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: HANDOUT

Combined ShapeCaption
Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

We are told to value how well students bubble in answers on a series of tests given on a specific day, ignoring what the students accomplished on all of the other days they attended school. It is almost incomprehensible that today’s students must complete an incredible 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school. Eight of the standardized state tests are high stakes, which may prevent students from moving on to fourth grade or graduating high school even when the classroom teacher believes differently.

If the standardized tests were an effective measurement of student performance, we should see an increase in student SAT, ACT, and international testing scores. However, in over 20 years since the inception of state testing, we do not see any statistically significant change in how students perform. In other words, today’s students are faring about as well as students did before state testing became vogue. As far as how we are competing internationally, the United States finds itself approximately in the middle of the pack.

State testing has not increased our placement in comparison with other countries, and it likely never will. The difference oftentimes overlooked is that the United States proudly teaches all students, not just a select few. We embrace our gifted students, special needs children, students going to college, and those who are going into careers or the military. Our country wasn’t founded on how well our students performed on standardized tests. We have thrived because of our intelligence, creativity, determination, and grit. The measurements for these standards are found in the number of patents our great country produces and the number of high school and college graduates we produce in comparison to other countries.

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Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: Greg Lynch

Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: Greg Lynch

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Today’s students must complete 23 standardized tests before they graduate high school.

Credit: Greg Lynch

Credit: Greg Lynch

School districts are told by the Ohio Department of Education that they should mimic the “business world.” The state drum is pounded to the rhythmical chant to “prepare the students for the workforce.” After all this is the working environment our children will soon enter. And we are aware of the requirements needed for workforce development, but we are unaware of bosses asking their employees to complete standardized tests as a measurement of performance on the job. They certainly measure the quality of the projects the employees complete, how they interact with customers, and if they are meeting the goals and expectations of the company. This sounds a lot like the approach of our Hamilton City School teachers.

Knowing what I know of them and teachers throughout Ohio, I believe that we should place our faith squarely on the professional opinion of our public school teachers when it comes to student performance. Our teachers spend approximately 178 days with our children, continually assessing their progress and encouraging them. They serve as witness to a student’s performance on multiple writing assessments, quizzes, tests, and class participation. Unlike the sterility of a state test, our teachers know the best way for our students to communicate their knowledge of the content.

Tony Orr is the superintendent of Hamilton City Schools. He writes a column sharing his views on the state of local education. Contact him at torr@hcsdoh.org.

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Tony Orr is the superintendent of Hamilton City Schools

Tony Orr is the superintendent of Hamilton City Schools

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Tony Orr is the superintendent of Hamilton City Schools

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