By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association
There were many firsts at the recent OEA Representative Assembly:
- The first time a Representative Assembly was held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds
- The first time the assembly hall smelled a little like horses and other farm animals
- The first time that the RA concluded with a Commission on Student Success, to allow OEA members to discuss their ideas about the key components of high-quality public education
For me, the most important firsts came during the Legislative Committee’s Report, when two legislative items about “opt out” were proposed by delegates from the floor of the RA. Brittany Alexander and Mary Kennedy, two education advocates from Hilliard Schools, articulately explained why it is critical for OEA to take a stand on this issue, and delegates responded. The most spirited parts of the discussion were not about whether or not OEA should take a stand, but what was the clearest, most appropriate way to word the items.
This is a tricky subject.
Many teachers and parents support the “opt out” movement as a way to deal with the over-testing of students and the inappropriate use of test scores to rate teachers. However, it is difficult for the OEA to take a stand, advocating opt out, knowing that there are negative consequences for teachers and schools when students opt out. True, there are some safe harbor provisions in law right now, but those expire, and we can’t be sure what will happen when they do.
With the possibility of negative consequences in mind, delegates to previous representative assemblies have been reluctant to take a stance on opt out. There was a New Business Item passed last year, which directed OEA to lobby the state legislature to require the ODE to notify parents of their rights to refuse the tests, and the fact that the tests are not required for graduation. This was a good step, but New Business Items expire after a year, and the scope was somewhat limited.
This year, delegates took a different path. They proposed amendments to our Legislative Policies. Legislative policy does not expire after a year. The policies are also written in a manner that spells out what OEA supports and opposes.
The two items that were adopted regarding “opt out” were:
“OEA opposes sanctions and/or penalties against students, education professionals, schools and districts when parents exercise their rights to opt their children out of standardized testing.”
“OEA supports protecting the rights of parents who choose to opt their children out of standardized testing and supports informing parents of the potential consequences under current law.”
As a parent, a teacher and an OEA member, I am happy to see these items adopted. Even though the state changes test names and the schedule for giving tests, the tests still are an unwelcome component of our classrooms. I have no doubt that parents across the state will opt their children out of tests this spring, and it’s imperative that OEA support these parents. Taking a stance reinforces the fact that OEA is an organization that does not exist merely to negotiate teacher contracts. It’s an organization working to strengthen schools and advocate for children.
I am hopeful that, guided by these new Legislative Policies, OEA’s efforts to work with legislators will produce laws that support the rights of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.
I am hopeful, as well, that these Legislative Policy “firsts,” will not be the last time OEA and Representative Assembly delegates take actions to combat the high stakes testing epidemic that plagues our schools.