Stan Heffner, corruptible leader.  Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has insulted the intelligence of Ohioans once again.  In an effort to convince people that he knows what he’s doing, he took the stage this week and told an audience of Charter School advocates that Ohio’s academic standards are “no longer good enough.” The Columbus Dispatch titled their article about the event:

Throughout the speech, Heffner cast blame on “the system” and implied that Ohio has rested on its laurels for far too long.

The entire (state) system is focused on minimum competence, and there is no reward for going beyond that. There is no incentive to excel, and we became so enamored with these report cards.”

The system is not asking enough of these kids.”

“If Ohioans want good jobs, … we need to step it up.”

Heffner said the state is working to ramp up curriculum guidelines and a testing system starting in the 2014-15 school year, although he urged educators not to wait.

Doesn’t that make you furious?  Wouldn’t you like to know who is responsible for such a grievous offense on Ohio’s children?

Okay, so we’re predictable.  The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Stan Heffner, Ohio’s Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment since 2004.

In 2007, the Fordham Institute published a report titled The Proficiency Illusion.  The report essentially stated exactly what Heffner just ranted about in his speech, mainly that state expectations for Ohio students fall far short.  Ironically, the exact same Dispatch reporter covered that story, too:

A search of the various state newspapers covering that story reveals that individuals from ODE were divided up among the reporters, with each having their own take on the appropriate talking points.  Heffner shared his perspective with the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Ohio’s reading and math cut scores ranked among the lower half of the 26 states examined, the report says.

But Ohio officials say that the report’s methodology is “fairly suspect.” Fordham’s methods can’t accurately assess one state’s tests against another’s.

We have a lot of apples and oranges here,” said Stan Heffner, associate superintendent of curriculum assessment for the Ohio Department of Education. Low cut scores on a test means students can miss many questions and still pass, or be considered proficient.  Heffner said that Ohio’s tests are difficult, perhaps more than other states, so lower cut scores reflect that.

“Not all tests are created equal,” he said.

The Dispatch had the pleasure of speaking with Mitchell Chester, now the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts (Ohio’s “model state” for Retesting Teachers).

Chester said different assessment systems make state-by-state comparisons difficult. Some tests are harder than others and, as the Fordham report points out, passing scores vary.

A better gauge, he said, is student scores on the national assessment.

[The Fordham Report] came a week after a report showing that Ohio students outperformed those in most other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

“It flies in the face of this Fordham report,” said Mitchell Chester, senior associate superintendent for the Ohio Department of Education.

Two full years pass……….

All the way to October 2009 when a cadre of advocacy groups including the Fordham Institute and the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools called for tougher standards.  This was in the midst of the development of the national Common Core education standards that Ohio, especially Stan Heffner, were involved in writing. And how did Heffner respond to this call to raise the bar?

Ohio has helped write a set of common standards that are research-based and benchmarked to top performing countries, and could be adopted anywhere in the nation. But the state won’t use those, instead revamping its existing standards, Associate Superintendent Stan Heffner said.

The common standards won’t be finalized until January and, by law, Ohio must adopt new ones for English, math, science and social studies by June 30. It’s not enough time, Heffner said, and they’ll be too different from the academic content the state currently believes is important.

We imagine the breakup sounding like this:

Heffner: “Hey, look guys, you have  some really impressive and rigorous standards you’ve got there.  I mean, we even helped write them.  But look, we’re going to have to take a pass.  See, we sort of have a curfew…but there’s more.  We actually have some other stuff we’d like to teach that I think is better than research-based stuff. Well…I’ve got your phone number so if things change I’ll give you a call.”

May 2010:  “Hello?  Hi, it’s me, Stan Heffner.  From Ohio.”
In May 2010, ODE reported to the Board of Education on the adoption of the new standards, including the national Common Core curriculum for English and math. Too bad Stan delayed the process back in 2007:

Students, however, won’t be held to the higher standards until the 2014-15 school year. The four-year delay is needed to allow state educators time to develop corresponding model curriculum and assessments, and to give teachers an opportunity to prepare.

In testimony before the House Education Committee, assistant superintendent Stan Heffner said “the new standards require higher-order thinking skills” such as reasoning, analysis and problem-solving.

Let’s see…if Heffner had acted on the report in 2007 to raise the bar, and if a four-year delay is necessary to allow educators time to adapt, then that would have put the changes in place around 2011-2012.  Hey, that’s now!

Look, we are well aware that Heffner simply goes whichever way the wind blows and he’s currently trying to appease the Governor, which means appeasing the charter school supporters, which means jumping however high the Fordham Institute dictates.  But Heffner’s flip-flopping routine is getting too hard to follow.  This man could give Mitt Romney a serious challenge in that category.

  • State assessments are just fine — assessments need overhauled
  • Curriculum is suitable for Ohio — let’s adopt something new
  • Teachers need four years to adjust — teachers should not wait
  • I’m not applying to be superintendent — I accept the Board president’s offer!
  • I’m going to work for ETS — I accept the Board president’s offer!

And the latest occurrence was today when we received a copy of the ODE Newsletter for the Offices of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment.

The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results were discussed at Heffner’s presentation earlier this month and in newspaper accounts of the event and were propped up as evidence of the need to “ramp up” the Ohio tests.  These are the same national assessments that Heffner’s ODE dismissed as irrelevant back in 2007, but are now indicative of Ohio’s educational failings.

Except that Heffner apparently forgot to distribute an internal ODE memo about raising the bar:

Hmm…are those results good?  Or bad?

Apparently it all depends on who’s writing the checks.


  • Anonymous

    So, what is your point here? That the standards are fine? Or that they were sh*tty four years ago when Stan and Mitch were responsible, and now Stan has admitted that he screwed up? 

  • Anonymous

    When did Stan say he screwed up?  I must have missed that press release.

  • Anonymous

    November 14 at the OSBA conference. The Dispatch didn’t cover it, but others did report it.  I still would like to know what your point is, though. I don’t dispute that Stan has been a large part of Ohio’s accountability problem. I’m just unclear whether you believe there is a problem at all. 

  • Anonymous

    I mentioned that OSBA presentation in a prior post (, but have not found any transcripts of his actual speech nor read anywhere that he accepted personal responsibility for any past decisions that conflict with his more recent speech.  I also find it curious that he wouldn’t mention his 7-year role in the process when speaking at the OAPCS conference.  I’d appreciate it if you would pass along a link.

    I didn’t offer a personal opinion as to whether Ohio has a problem with the current standards, because no data exists that would definitively indicate one way or the other.  To quote Stan from 2007, “We have lot of apples and oranges here.”  We’re four years later and nothing has changed.  We have the same apples and oranges that we did back then.

  • Anastasjoy

    How on earth were we ever able to get educated back in the day when there were no “standards” or “model curriculum” or endless “assessments”? Oh right — parents who cared about education and let us know we should take it seriously. If all this crap went away, kids in upper middle class schools would still be getting well-educated and kids from poor families would probably not be any worse off.

  • Anonymous

    My overall point was nothing more than information.  This is some stuff that happened that I find interesting.  At the very least, Heffner is a hypocrite and his position then and now is arbitrary and inconsistent.  We have no information now that we did not have then, so his change of position must be based on other influences.

    The apples and oranges are the state tests and the national tests.  Those tests are not comparable to one another and can be said to test different things.  Also, with the different scoring ranges, a direct comparison should not be considered reliable.

    As to the question of a rigorous assessment system and the OAGC report, I’m likely more progressive in my personal beliefs and our collective inability to satisfactorily use tests to improve teaching and learning.  

    I did read the OAGC report and considered including some of it, but concluded that it would have not been relevant to the information about Heffner that I was writing.
    Jumping to the report’s recommendations, this is where I find myself sort of disagreeing, but not in the opposing viewpoint.  My disagreement is that I believe the report should have been harsher about the testing process.

    Adjusting cut scores and performance indicators to “better” classify district performance will do nothing to change the actual performance of students on the tests, it will only change the label that schools receive for the performance that is occurring.  Schools are already implementing the state-mandated curriculum as it is aligned to the state-mandated tests.  A nationally-normed test also won’t change this practice as it relates to teacher and student performance unless the curriculum changes along with it (something the Common Core will theoretically address).  The flaw in this theory that increasing the difficulty of the tests will somehow improve scores also implies that teachers are currently holding back their teaching practices and will step it up as soon as the state creates an edict to do so.  This notion is insulting to the profession.

    I understand that OAGC has policy-level responsibilities that I don’t have to follow as an individual and I respect the mission of the organization to promote improvement while maintaining a politically viable stance.  And for me, your third recommendation about elimination the labeling is my easy favorite (minus the optimistic belief that a meaningful system is inevitable).

    For the other items, including value-added, since I don’t have faith in the standardized testing process with regard to fairness on a variety of levels, I can’t buy into those recommendations at  face value.  In terms of a compromise, I could settle for the tests providing a means by which districts are able to obtain a comparison to others and hone their practices accordingly.  This is the only use I currently see for value-added data too — an ability for districts and schools to analyze their educational practices to identify necessary areas for change (i.e., curriculum, pacing, etc.).  I would easily sacrifice any small benefit this provides if the tests were dropped.

    From a gifted education and AP standpoint, I think we’re also a mess.  Our reliance on funding and a (self-imposed) restriction on the labeling of students as deserving of GT services creates situations where we can’t (don’t) meet all student needs (e.g., the comparison of schools in your OAGC report).  Small districts, small schools, etc., can easily create scenarios where the program is too small to justify the cost of the teaching staff to adequately offer the course offerings to deserving students.  Realize I’m not saying this is right, but only that it is our current reality (preaching to the choir, right?).

    Finally, you must know that I attended an I.G.E. elementary school that may have been one of the best environments to cultivate gifted students by allowing the students to move at their own pace.  My teachers definitely worked their butts off to provide such opportunities for all of the students at the school, and I know that the model was far from uniformly successful for all students, gifted or otherwise.  Experiencing this ideal setting through 5th grade ruined me for 6th grade and above where I had no options other than traditional programs.  I mention this because I would also propose that instead of evaluating students and districts by single, identical measures, teachers and students would benefit (if we HAVE to accept testing) by providing a variety of leveled measures/assessments that would better us all with a more accurate diagnosis of a student’s knowledge and growth.  By 4th and 5th grades, the range of ability of our highest- and lowest-performing children is too enormous to offer only one single standardized test.  By providing differentiated testing options we might better learn the strengths and weaknesses of ALL of our students.  I understand that this type of testing process just seems to beg for corruption of one sort or another and the political ramifications may be large, but it seems to me like we already are trying to manage those allegations now, so why not advocate for a process that will help improve education instead of just rearranging the numbers on the rubric?I think we’re in agreement that gifted students are grossly under-served in Ohio (and everywhere) and not every district that does provide services does so appropriately when they only move the students up a grade/course without addressing a gifted students unique needs.  Just as we have Alternate Assessments and modifications for low-performing special needs children so should GT students have an assessment that can demonstrate their advanced abilities.  Standardized tests by definition are normed to a minimum standard that “every child” should be able to accomplish and such a singular standard is inappropriate for measuring the knowledge across such a wide variation of individuals.

    That might be more than two cents’ worth….

  • Dmoore2222

    Poor Stan. If only he had gotten out of the parking garage before they named him superintendent without even applying for the job. Just more amateurism from the Kasich regime.

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