For a Governor and political party that professes to want a smaller government, Ohio’s Republicans sure seem to like laws that impose greater government control over our personal lives.

One latest example that doesn’t involve a uterus is Governor Kasich’s proposal to implement a “guarantee” that all children are proficient readers before being allowed to move on to the 4th grade.  His explanation is that students who aren’t able to pass the third grade reading test are less likely to graduate from high school and should therefore be held back for (at least) a year.

In fact, Kasich says if students get to third grade and fail the state exam, they won’t be moved on to the fourth grade.

Kasich says, “that is doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice.” (StateImpact, 3/16/12)

Kasich wants the infinitely wise and ever-changing Ohio government to take control over these decisions that should be preserved for the parents and educators who know these children.  Parents like my wife and me as we faced this very decision with our oldest son.

In the summer before our son would be transitioning from 2nd to 3rd grade, we we’re moving houses and school districts.  School was not easy for him though he was always “a pleasure to have in class.” His struggles with reading were adversely affecting his performance across the board, and we faced a decision about what we should do to help.  The change of schools and the new group of friends seemed like a perfect chance to consider retaining him and avoid the social stigma associated with such a choice.  Working against us was the fact that he was already a physically imposing kid and his size would certainly cause him to stick out among a group of children a year younger.  What to do?

Consult an expert and gather some data, of course.

I asked a trusted co-worker who is a reading specialist to please assess him for reading and provide a recommendation.  I explained our concerns and the scenario in detail so she knew the ramifications.  She read a variety of leveled books with him, spending an hour or more documenting his strengths and weaknesses.  And there were a lot of weaknesses, to be frank.  But I vividly remember how she summed up his final reading passage that was on his expected grade level.  She said, “The last reading was pretty rough,” as she showed me her notes marking up her copy of the passage making it virtually unreadable. “When he was finished, I wouldn’t have been able to retell you what he read, but he was able to summarize the piece perfectly. He definitely needs help with his reading skill, but his comprehension is outstanding.”

We opted not to hold him back that year and he continued to struggle for the next few years, always the thoughtful, caring student, but all the while facing reading challenges as his teachers continued to find ways to assist him.  He was a year prior to the implementation of the third-grade Ohio Achievement Test in Reading, but he was not proficient in either grade 4 or grade 5.

The peak of our frustration came in his fifth grade year when his teacher, also frustrated a bit with us, remarked that she needed to instruct our son using methods that were heavily reliant on him reading new information independently, writing his responses independently, and then taking tests that were exclusively reading and writing.  This couldn’t be modified for him because, in her words, “That’s the way it is done on the state tests and we need to prepare him for that.”

And with that I nearly snapped.  “We don’t care about the test,” I told her. “He’s not going to pass that test this year.  We simply want him to have a chance to learn and demonstrate some growth in your classroom.”

That was in 2006.  Yes, state-mandated testing wrongly drove public schools’ instructional decisions even then.

After his 5th grade year was finished and he was preparing to go to middle school, my wife stumbled on some information that led us to a diagnosis of dyslexia, a condition much more complex than reversing letters and numbers (look it up — it’s quite fascinating).  We ended up sending him to a private school for his 6th grade year that specifically worked with dyslexic children, was unbelievably expensive, and was not beholden to the burden of state-mandated standardized testing.  During that year he thrived and his ability to read grew by leaps and bounds.

We moved once again and enrolled him in a middle school with an amazing staff that understood our perspective on de-emphasizing the need to teach our son how to pass the tests and even appreciated our desire to help him learn and provide creative methods to allow him to demonstrate his academic growth.  As a result of the work of all of his various teachers and his own continued effort, he actually passed the proficient mark in Reading on the Ohio Achievement Test in his 8th grade year.  The moment was challenging as we still didn’t honor the standardized test as a judgement of his learning, yet the emphasis at the school level obviously pushed us to acknowledge his achievement and his continued effort.

Now, four years after that accomplishment and two years after a first-try passage of the Ohio Graduation Test in Reading, our oldest son’s high school graduation is set to occur right on time.

I would be lying if I said it has been easy for any of us, least of all him.  But holding him back a year in 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th grade would not have resulted in a positive difference for any of us.  Perhaps he would have received additional tutoring at the elementary school, but his diagnosis of dyslexia would only have been delayed and those teachers were so consumed with pushing students toward proficiency on a test requiring such discrete skills that they likely would not have been able to make the switch back to the days when student learning was more important than student test results.

Today, thanks to Governor Kasich and our Republican-dominated legislature, those test scores are more pervasive than ever.  And I can only imagine that those teachers are more focused than ever on tests scores over learning.  The Governor’s push to change these educational measures by changing state laws is a case where the state has again exercised greater control over the rights of local communities.

And in tomorrow’s Ohio, my wife and I would no longer be entitled to make that important educational decision about our son.  Instead, Governor Kasich wants the State of Ohio to decide our child’s future regardless of our ability to provide an education opinion.

The failure of an 8-year-old child to demonstrate proficiency in reading on a state-mandated, and ultra-secretive standardized test on one single day out of the year in a setting that is distinctly out of the norm should in no way be viewed as a conclusive evaluation of that child’s ability read, nor should it be used as a fail proof means of determining that child’s legal ability to move to the next grade.

And while Governor Kasich obviously disagrees with me by claiming that promoting students to the next grade would be “doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice,” he can tell that to my son, a boy who was not deemed a proficient reader by the state of Ohio until the 8th grade and is now a proud on-time member of the Class of 2012.