Column Promotes Productive Conversations About Testing, Opt Outs
It’s no secret that I am deeply skeptical of the opt-out movement and its true motivations. I worry that the movement’s leaders are pushing (or maybe have already pushed) us down a road that is ultimately designed to lead to less choice, less change, and less opportunity for students.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are legitimate concerns buried down in the opt-out conversation, and those concerns should be the focus of our conversation. As I’ve often said, we should be careful about using an unpopular testing instrument (PARCC) that has failed to deliver on its promises as a way to argue that no measurement is needed in the enormous government enterprise that is public education. Similarly, we can acknowledge the power and importance of providing parents, educators, and taxpayers with reliable, valid data on educational performance while still recognizing that there are major issues in the current accountability system that need to be addressed.
Sadly, I rarely see anyone attempt to find the reasonable middle ground in these conversations. Many folks are either vehemently opposed to everything or desperately trying to preserve the current system. That’s why I was so pleased yesterday to read a Chalkbeat op-ed from Eric Mason, Colorado Springs School District 11’s director of assessment.
Mason seeks—and, I think, mostly finds—the reasonable middle ground. He points out the underlying problems and issues to be addressed without resorting to sweeping, knee-jerk reactions that involve gutting accountability and choice. He acknowledges the importance of trust and relevance in any testing system without expounding upon the evils of all standardized tests.
Most importantly, he views tests as I think we should all view tests: products in a market. If one product isn’t working, it may be time to find another. Granted, selecting and implementing a new testing system isn’t exactly the same as swapping one pair of shoes for another; the process needs to be approached very carefully to avoid unintended consequences. But the fact remains that if there’s a better product out there, we ought to be looking into that product rather than simply storming out of the store entirely.
Honestly, though, I don’t think I could say any of this much better than Eric did. So I’ll just leave you with my favorite snippet of his column and a strong recommendation that you read the whole thing.
Schools still take nearly a week to test. The scores are often doubted by users. This year, Colorado didn’t receive scores back until August. This, despite the fact that online, computer testing was lauded for quicker, more accurate results.
All these criticisms aside, my heart breaks at the current state of affairs. Educational assessment is a civil rights issue. Where I grew up in south Texas, there were still separate schools for immigrants. Today we are still struggling to assure that all students of all backgrounds receive the best education the state can provide.
How do we know if one school is failing students of color? Assessment. How can we better understand the gaps our students have in college or career readiness? Assessment.
But, now, we have families turning their back on standardized testing. Now, even if we build the perfect test, we would still have to regain their trust. But with so many opt-outs, our data has holes in it. How can we trust the results when the picture is incomplete?
This year, nearly 100 schools in Colorado lost a performance rating or more because of opt-outs. Administrators are being forced to determine the impact of instruction in other ways. What does that mean? Another assessment. We hope it will be accurate, meaningful, and short, but it will still be another test.
There is a better way. There are better tests. I believe that with all my heart. Our leaders must commit to getting input from all stakeholders — teachers, students, and parents — to improve the tests and the results.