Sunday, September 24, 2000

Rally an anti-proficiency-test protest

Parents, teachers say they prove little and steal time

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Susan Cunningham does not like the Ohio Proficiency Test, and it's not that she thinks the test is entirely too hard.

        “They're kind of boring,” said the fifth-grader at North Avondale Montessori. “They take way too much time. But they do nag at the back of your mind. I get nervous. I'd much rather not do it.”

[photo] Clare Suffern, 5, sits with her father, Michael, and holds a sign at a rally Saturday in Bond Hill.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        Susan was among a handful of students sprinkled among about 100 parents and teachers — including some teachers from elsewhere in Ohio — who attended a forum Saturday at Harmony School in Bond Hill to protest Ohio Proficiency Tests.

        Parents and educators at the forum said the tests do not prepare students for life after school, have little resemblance to learning, are unnecessarily stressful for both students and teachers, smack of assembly-line education and sap creativity from the classroom.

        The standardized tests are given each year to students in grades four, five, nine and 12 and are used to advance students to the next grade.

        Placards protesting the tests were evident throughout the room of Harmony School, and the forum was organized by those who oppose Ohio Proficiency Tests, including FairTest Ohio.

        David Nordyke, the director and founder of Harmony, a school chartered by the Ohio Board of Education, introduced a series of speakers and opponents of the tests, including himself.

        “Standardization is kind of against the grain here,” Mr. Nordyke told them. “We do not teach for tests. We teach for growth, we teach for self-fulfillment. ... There is no such thing as a standard person.”

    Forums to protest the Ohio Proficiency Test are 7-9 p.m. Tuesday across the state, including forums at:
   • Finneytown High School, performing arts center, 8916 Fontainbleau Terrace.
   • Kings High School, 5500 Columbia Road.
   • Princeton High School auditorium, 11080 Chester Road.
        Katie Suffern, a sixth-grader at North Avondale Montessori, said she thinks the tests interfere with the Montessori method of teaching, and that the tests are particularly stressful on students.

        “I really dreaded taking proficiency tests,” said Katie. “I trust my teachers to educate me and not the people who write the tests.”

        Karen Imbus, Katie's mother, said the Montessori method encourages questioning in students, and makes for “curious, conscientious and engaged children.”

        She said proficiency testing steals “precious time” from true learning and abrogates her choice as a parent.

        “Don't children deserve better than a one-size-fits-all curriculum?” she asked.

        But many school districts see the tests as a way to gauge student performance. Jan Leslie, a spokeswoman for Cincinnati Public Schools, said the district uses the tests to help the students gain higher achievement levels.

        Maggie Hagan, an elementary school teacher in the city of Warren public schools, near Youngstown, said students are not products of an assembly line, and that teachers have been marginalized in the process of education.

        “We as teachers have been ignored,” said Ms. Hagan. “We have to stand up, because we are the experts.”

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