Last year at about this time, “opt out” was ubiquitous in the education conversation. In Colorado and many states, it was the first year of the new Common Core-aligned standardized tests (which are widely considered tougher and better tests), and the accountability-averse participants in the conversation encouraged kids to sit them out.
This year, with the first year under our collective belt, the conversation is noticeably more balanced. And “opt in” is making a bid to push out “opt out”–as you can read here from Denver parents, from the national PTA, from parents in New York and Connecticut (centers of the “opt-out” push), and major civil rights organizations.
As parents and teachers become more familiar with the tests and as we continue to improve the overall testing experience (by getting results back faster and focusing more on making test results useful in the classroom and to families), I’m hoping the conversation becomes less about the “ins” and “outs” and more about how our kids are doing and how they can do better.
Jessica Moore is a Colorado teacher whose focus is already there. Here’s a guest post from her on the importance of testing.
By Jessica Moore
I remember taking the SAT. I always got good grades, but sure enough my first attempt was abysmal. I scored below 900, which meant my best bet was a job at McDonalds, and that wasn’t exactly the prospect that I had in mind.
I worked hard to earn good grades while participating in sports and other extracurricular activities and holding down a job. I felt that I had listened to the guidance of my parents, teachers, college admissions reps and my own judgment to ensure that I was adequately prepared for college. But none of that seemed to matter when the score report showed up in the mail. I felt defeated and overcome with fear about whether my dreams would come to fruition if I couldn’t get into a reputable university.
Finding out that college might be out of reach—late in my junior year—was a very big problem and one that far too many students around the country experience. Unlike many low-income students, my educated, well-to-do parents could afford to pay for a tutor whose regular coaching helped me improve my score to over 1300, allowing me to attend the school of my dreams.
This scenario is precisely what new college and career ready assessments are designed to do: provide students and their families with honest feedback throughout their schooling so that there are no surprises late in the game.
I’ve observed that few balk at the requirement of college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. Taking these tests has long been a prerequisite to college attendance, and despite outdated components of the test, students and parents willingly sign up to take a single standardized test to measure college readiness.
It’s no secret that the SAT and ACT are not comprehensive predictors of student success in college–grades and non-cognitive skills play a big part too. Knowing archaic vocabulary words was not, according to most (including those in higher education), the skill set separating successful students from those who would flounder. Yet it was the standard, and college bound kids along with their parents accepted that it was a part of the process and complied.
PARCC, an assessment designed to be more relevant and rigorous than either the SAT or ACT, is being annihilated by a large number of student, teacher, parent groups, not to mention right-wing politicians who argue that it is flawed.
These assessments are not the devils they have been made out to be. If the PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments become approved college entrance exams, I wonder how many parents will continue to limit their child’s access to honest and accurate feedback about how well they are progressing toward their postsecondary goals.
Furthermore, those who are concerned about total time spent testing in schools need to recognize that this is not a PARCC or SBAC issue, it’s a systemic problem that deserves separate attention. Opting out of a quality test that delivers important information is not the solution to any of the issues being raised.
There is more to the opt-out movement than just “too much testing.” My fifth grade students, for example, will spend four and a half hours reading and analyzing texts and four hours solving multi-step math problems. The eight and a half hours they will spend testing will yield important data about what they need now, before they are even thinking about applying to college. The equivalent of a full school day testing isn’t exactly the horrific nightmare that so many are painting it to be. The insistence of some that the answer is to not have kids take the test illustrates a much larger issue: white privilege.
The vast majority of people who participate in opt-out are affluent, educated, white people who don’t see a value in measuring progress for their child, while maintaining an ambivalence toward everyone else in the system. They presume to know what’s best for those typically shortchanged in education: Black and Hispanic students, disabled children, students learning English, and low-income kids.
Every child in the public school system deserves a rigorous education fueled by consistent and ongoing data that is a reliable indicator about their progress towards college and career readiness. Kids shouldn’t sit down to take college entrance exams unsure of whether they will be successful. Opt-out advocates should stop shouting long enough to see that public education has a responsibility to consider the best interest of all students, not just the ones of privilege.