Frasier Listening

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Eric Gorski has a great, insightful story this morning about our state’s opt-out push. It suggests that there’s somewhat of a stalling in the effort to get students to blow off PARCC, the state’s standardized test.

Gorski summarizes the top reason as: “There are fewer tests, and they’re shorter.” Which I—as a testing advocate—translate to: Listening works.

There was an outcry here in Colorado that we had too many tests, particularly in high school. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of opt-outers in Colorado were high school students. And as the Chalkbeat story points out, the response has been to eliminate 10th and 11th grade tests.

In addition to cutting some tests altogether, the PARCC exams across all grades were shortened, to further respond to the calls for less overall testing time.

I’ve been involved in the testing debate for many years now. And much of the energy on the pro-testing “side” has been spent arguing the principles of testing: We need to know how our kids and schools are performing. Testing shines a light on where the gaps are and which kids need the most help. Life is full of tough tests, and we’re not doing our kids any favors by letting them bail.

I’m firmly behind all of those principles.

I’ve also worked in public education and know—first-hand—that test results drive improvements. The education leaders I’ve worked with scour the results to expand on what’s working and fix or abandon what’s not. So my experience reinforces the principles.

That hasn’t necessarily been true for many of the people that we as testing advocates have been trying to convince: students, parents, and teachers. Their experience has been: Wow, there are a lot of tests. The state tests, in particular, are a slog. And once we’re through it, we don’t get much of anything back that’s useful to us.

The best response to that experience is not to just shout back the principles of testing. It’s to shut up and listen. Acknowledge and adjust.

And that’s what’s happened here in Colorado. The tests are better. We eliminated some and shortened the rest. And it’s taken some of the steam out of opting out.

But there are still more adjustments to make. Parents and teachers need the results back quickly—at least during the same school year that the tests are taken—and they need to be a clear, easy-to-understand progress report that can drive action and improvements. That still isn’t happening.

And even when that does happen, there will still be parents and students who opt out. But there will also be a lot more who will opt in, because the overall experience has improved.

And because it’s nice to be heard.