I somehow missed this very important post. This was written by the son of a colleague in Ohio who was not allowed to graduate because of his opposition to high-stakes testing. This was tough for his father as his Dad is the principal of his school. Of course, they discussed all of this over and over and I'm pleased to see just how, in the final analysis, it was a question of conscience that the father—as his parent—supported as well.
John, BTW, is going to be fine. He'll be attending a private university in the fall. Note the comments by Susan Ohanion and Carol Holst below.
Sunday was my high-school graduation. However, despite being ranked
sixth in my class, I did not cross the stage or receive a diploma. I did
not drop out at the last minute and I was not expelled. I didn't
graduate because I refused to take the Ohio Proficiency Tests.
I did this because I believe these high-stakes tests (which are required
for graduation) are biased, irrelevant and unnecessary.
The bias of these tests is demonstrated by Ohio's own statistics. They
show consistently that schools with high numbers of low-income and/or
minority students score lower on state tests. It is argued (in defense
of testing) that this is not the test's fault, that the scores are only
a reflection of the deeper social economic injustices. This is very
likely true. What makes the test biased is the fact that the state does
little or nothing to compensate for the differences that the students
experience outside the classroom.
In fact, the state only worsens the situation with its funding system.
Ohio's archaic school-funding system underfunds schools in poorer areas
because it is based on property taxes. The way we fund our schools has
been declared unconstitutional four times, and yet the state Legislature
refuses to fix the problem.
The irrelevance of these tests is also demonstrated by state
statistics -- in this case, the lack of them. In 13 years of testing,
Ohio has failed to conduct any studies linking scores on the proficiency
test to college acceptance rates, college grades, income levels,
incarceration rates, dropout rates, scores on military recruiting tests,
or any other similar statistic.
State officials have stated that it would be too difficult or costly to
keep track of their students after high school but I find this hard to
believe. My high school is tracking my class for five years with help
from the Coalition of Essential Schools. Certainly, the state, with all
its bureaucrats, could do the same.
Both of these factors, the test's biases and irrelevance, contribute to
making it unnecessary. This system is so flawed it should not be used to
determine whether or not students should graduate.
More importantly, a system already exists for determining when students
are ready to graduate. The ongoing assessment by teachers who spend
hours with the students is more than sufficient for determining when
they are ready to graduate.
However this assessment is being undermined by a focus on test
preparation that has eliminated many advanced courses and enrichment
experiences. Additionally, since the tests do not and cannot measure
things such as critical thinking, the ability to work with others,
public speaking, and other characteristics of democratic citizenship,
these things are pushed aside while we spend more time memorizing for
After almost a decade and a half of testing, many people cannot imagine
what could be done in place of high-stakes testing, but here in
southeast Ohio, alternative assessments are alive and kicking. At my
school, Federal Hocking High School, every senior has to complete a
senior project (I built a kayak), compile a graduation portfolio, and
defend his or her work in front of a panel of teachers in order to
graduate. These types of performance assessments are much more
individualized and authentic, and are certainly difficult, something I
can attest to, having completed them myself.
There may be a place for standardized testing in public education, but
it should not be used to determine graduation.
Because of these reasons, I decided to take a stand against the Ohio
Proficiency Tests, even though it would cost me my graduation and
diploma. But why such a drastic measure? The reason is simple; someone
has to say no. Education is the key to maintaining our democracy, and I
have become disgusted by the indifference displayed by lawmakers who
make statements about the value of public education while continuing to
fail to fairly and adequately fund it or commit to performance-based
I have written a number of state senators and representatives from both
parties recommending the state allow districts to set alternatives to
high-stakes tests for graduation. Having done everything required for
graduation but take the tests, I thought I would provide them an
opportunity to rethink testing. Sadly, I have not received a response
from any of them, even after personally approaching and rewriting them.
What this has taught me is that one voice is not enough, and to make a
difference in our democracy, the people must speak with a unified voice.
I encourage everyone concerned about the damage being done by
high-stakes testing and inadequate funding of public education to speak
out. Join me in just saying no to high-stakes testing.
Editor's note: John Wood is a non-graduate of Federal Hocking High
School in Stewart. He will be attending Warren Wilson College in
— John Wood
Susan Ohanian Comment: Note what happened when this young man made his case to
state politicians. Nonetheless, he pleads, "Someone has to say no." When
will teachers stop relying on politicians for solutions, and start
refusing to give the tests they know are wrong?
Carol's comment: A Texas parent can issue a home-school diploma to their
graduate and it will be recognized as coming from an unaccredited
private school. Why can't we use this information to advance a student
boycott of the taks test (assuming one's conscience leads that