Spring testing is upon us, and what a hoopla here in Colorado over the new Common Core State Standards assessments. Debates are sizzling over test scores, the amount of instructional time lost, and whether the standards themselves are appropriate. Opting-out of the tests is all the rage for parents and students, and states are dropping out of their consortiums like flies. It seems we all might benefit from a step back, a deep breath, and a few words from some cool heads.
After some fairly wide reading of both sides of the debate, two questions emerge. First, what does one hope to accomplish by opting/dropping out of the assessments? And second, where does dropping the assessments leave us?
By opting out their students, some parents are taking a stand against over-testing and the amount of instructional time being lost. Will opting out solve this? In a March 17 article published by Eduacationpost, Pamela Norton, a mother of two, insists that PARCC “isn’t the culprit when it comes to over-testing. Most testing, according to a statewide survey released earlier this year, is required by the school itself or by the local district. The PARCC test is a very small piece of it—less than 2 percent of students’ time is used on statewide testing.” As for instructional time lost, schools are not required to provide an alternative learning activity for students opting out. My own children’s schools simply seat students in the office with personal reading or homework. Instructional time was lost regardless.
Concern over scores is shared by all. The tests are hard. However, they are designed to assess readiness, not label intelligence. “Past assessments failed to accurately measure the college readiness of my children, and in turn led me to be a misinformed parent,” laments Norton. “Opting out removes a parent’s ability to accurately assess how their neighborhood school is doing compared to other schools in their district and across the state. Without the comparison, parents are giving up the transparency they need to . . . select the school that is best able to deliver on the promise of educating their kids for college and career.”
In a March 1 article published by EdSource, Gina Dalma, senior program officer at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, further reminds us that “lower scores on the tests should not be an indictment of the new Common Core standards. Rather, they should underscore the hard work that will be needed to ensure our students become critical thinkers who will not need remedial courses in college before they can get started on college-level work. Let’s remember that test scores were also much lower when the previous standardized tests—the California Standards Tests—were first introduced.”
Second, where does dropping/opting out of the assessments leave us? It might leave us with less resources for low income students since the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools test 95 percent of students or face “sanctions” which could include losing Title I funds. It also leaves us in a clash of federal and state mandates concerning the right to opt out.
Sometimes a rearview glance offers perspective. Before Common Core, states had a complete mish-mash when it came to reading, writing, and math standards. In addition, they created their own assessments, which could be manipulated any which way to make schools appear successful. Common Core put an end to all that “gaming the system.” In a piece that originally aired in July of 2013 as implementation of Common Core was beginning, NPR’s Education Reporter Cory Turner reports, “A big part of what makes the Common Core such a revolution in education is that it aspires to bring order to the Wild West that we saw under No Child Left Behind.” For example, an A reader in one state could move to another state to discover himself a C or a D reader. “As soon as states start developing their own tests again, it'll be easier for them to fudge their proficiency standards and make it that much harder to know what states are implementing new standards well and who isn’t. In short, you start to lose the common in Common Core.”
So, in other words, opting and dropping out puts us back at square one, and conspicuously absent from the debate are alternate solutions, or better ideas. Anyone?
For a current tally of which states are doing what, click here.
Opting Out Is Not Progressive
By J. Gordon Wright, March 31, 2015
I’m a Colorado Educator and I Helped Build the PARCC Math Exams
By Joanie Funderburk, March 17, 2015, Chalkbeat
From Oklahoma to Louisiana: Why states are dropping Common Core
By Kyle Olson, June 21, 2014
And to help us all keep a sense of humor:
Note: The opinions expressed in the articles at links provided represent solely those of the authors. Inquiry by Design welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view.