December 17, 2014

Elyria
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test

Elyria teacher starts online petition for changes to standardized tests

Dawn Randall teaches poetry in her fifth-grade class at McKinley Elementary on Monday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Dawn Randall teaches poetry in her fifth-grade class at McKinley Elementary on Monday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — It started with a guest column in the Washington Post, where Elyria teacher Dawn Randall lamented about the exhausting standardized testing schedule of Ohio students.

Now, the educator with 24 years in the classroom under her belt is letting her voice be used to drive an online petition calling for changes in the way young students are tested in schools across the state.

Uploaded to MoveOn.org more than a week ago, the petition is asking for saner standardized testing practices. It had garnered 984 signatures as of 6 p.m. Monday.

“I don’t think I am asking for too much to say there needs to be developmentally appropriate time limits to tests, and that those same tests be returned to parents and teachers after they are scored,” Randall said. “Students, some as young as 8 and 9 years old, are asked to sit through a 2.5-hour test and we never see those documents again. We are given phantom scores and the actual test is never returned.”

Randall’s classroom at McKinley Elementary School, where she teaches fifth-grade language arts, is just like any other typical classroom with books, the stellar work of students tacked to the walls and notices about homework to be completed. But a whiteboard at the front of the room provides whoever enters with a quick education of testing requirements of students.

When asked why such information is in plain sight, Randall said if she is going to subject her students to the state mandated tests, she will also arm them with the facts about how the tests will affect their lives.

Randall helps a student during a poetry lesson on Monday.

Randall helps a student during a poetry lesson on Monday.

“I want my students to know the state doesn’t know about the projects they have worked on all year, the good grades they have earned, the books they have read or the progress they have made,” she said. “All the state cares about is one test taken on one day and they will label that child based on the results. So on that one day, I want them to give it all they got to show they are proficient.”

Randall, who is considered a highly qualified teacher based on a matrix that looks at how her students academically grow throughout a school year, said contrary to what some may believe she is not against testing. It’s a necessary function of public education, she said, adding that the latest version that keeps upping the stakes — a new mandate known as the Third Grade Reading Guarantee that could result in hundreds of Ohio students not advancing to fourth grade after this school year — has perverted a system that is supposed to help districts better assess student achievement.

“My goal is to make the test more developmentally appropriate. In what world is it OK to say a third-grader can take a 2.5-hour rest just like a 10th grader?” Randall said. “The assessment we give students to see if they are gifted is an hour and a half. So, they’re saying I only need an hour and a half to determine if a child is gifted, but it takes 2.5 hours to tell if a child can read.”

Randall said she hopes the petition gets the attention of state legislators, state school board members and the Ohio Department of Education. She also hopes it serves as a rallying call to parents and fellow educators to get involved.

Since penning a piece for the Washington Post, Randall has received hundreds of emails and Facebook comments supporting her initiative, but she feels many are afraid to let their displeasure known. Teachers fear for their jobs, parents fear repercussion for their children and administrators fear angrier policymakers who control the state purse strings.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into either with all this. But I felt like it was something I couldn’t say no to,” Randall said.

“Enough is enough. I’m just weary from all this testing. Honestly, I just want to teach.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.