And In Their Own Words

This young man should be commended for standing up for himself and his fellow students against a system he feels is unfair. He made sure he started his protest from a position of power, as he is ranked 6th in his class. All of our seniors should be as thoughtful and well-spoken as he. I couldn’t have said it better.

Reader’s Forum: Here are the reasons why I didn’t graduate from Federal Hocking last weekend
By John Wood

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 tests.

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 assessments.

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 Ashville, N.C.


11 Responses to “And In Their Own Words”

  1. 1 Toad734
    June 3, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    This is one area that I am a complete “socialist”. Every school should have the same basic facilities, the same student to teacher ratio (unless it’s a really small town), and get the same amount of funding per student.

    If it is a “public” school, then it should be funded by the public, not the local tax district. It is just another way this country punishes poor kids because their parents are poor. There shouldn’t be one school with a bigger football stadium than another school, unless the people themselves took up a separate collection to fund it.

  2. 2 Anonymous
    June 3, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    I realize that typos will always happen, Polanco, but you should pay close attention to your writing. As a teacher and a self-professed “wordaholic” (a term I love, by the way–I am going to steal it!) you should not have errors such as, “He made sure he COME from a position of power, as he is ranked 6th in his class.” You do, however, recover nicely with the seldom-used predicate nominative. Keep up the good work!

  3. 3 The Zombieslayer
    June 4, 2005 at 6:18 am

    Hats off to young Mr. Wood. I !@#$%^& hate tests and almost twenty years after graduating high school still have nightmares about taking tests. I did horribly on the SAT and never bothered taking it a second time. I can’t stand Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. Maybe if kids spent more times learning and less time taking stupid tests, they could actually get an education in school.

  4. 4 United We Lay
    June 4, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    Toad –
    I completely agree with you about schools, funding, and football. The problem in most states is that local taxes fund local schools. A wealthier area is going to have better schools. We need a different funding system.

    Anon –
    Thanks for picking up on that. I’m working from a computer without all it’s keys, and so I occasionally miss a misake. Feel free to point them out whenever. I’m not sensitive.

    Zombie –
    I rarely use tests in my classroom unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have some learning disabilities, and so I understand the aversion. There are some merits to some testing, for example, the standardized tests help schools relaize what they need to focus on, but they should not be used to determine graduation. There should be a separate test to determine graduation, as in most industrialized countries. Those countries, France, England, Germany, Japan, and others rank higher than we do in education partly because they require their students to actually retain information rather than to spout it off at the drop of a hat.

  5. 5 tshsmom
    June 4, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    What learning disabilities do you have? I don’t mean to get personal, but we’re constantly looking for alternate learning systems for our son. So far, we’ve found a few things that work, and a bunch of things that don’t work.
    You can email me off my blog if this is too personal to discuss here.

  6. 6 United We Lay
    June 5, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    I’m a teacher. My life is public record. I have ADHD and I am mildly dislexic, as you may have guessed by some of my typing errors. My husband has to check my blog each evening for spelling mistakes. My husband also has ADHD, and we are treated in two, very different ways. As always, feel free to ask anything you like. Our lives are meant to be shared. If we were supposed to keep everything to ourselves, we never would have learned to talk or listen.

  7. 7 tshsmom
    June 5, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Our son has Tourette’s Syndrome(TS) with comorbid ADD(he’s not hyperactive). Concentration is an issue with him. Do you have any suggestions?

  8. 8 United We Lay
    June 5, 2005 at 10:27 pm

    Flash Cards, memory games, and reading with him are all things you can do to improve concentration. Get him books on subjects he’s interested in.

  9. 9 Saurkraut
    June 6, 2005 at 1:10 pm


    This letter is a truly terrifying example of how we (as a people) are not self-governed any more. I have nothing against testing whatsoever. But to use a testing system that has not been verified to be accurate or useful is a travesty.

  10. 10 United We Lay
    June 6, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    You are correct, we are no longer a government for and by the people. Our education system and its lack of funding, as well as our reluctance to do anything about health care, show that the poeple are no longer in control.

  11. 11 United We Lay
    June 6, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    PS – I recieved an email fom the young man who wrote this speech. Great kid!

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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