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The State of Assessment, Part 1

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 -- Lilly Flores

As the spring testing season winds down, we believe that it is important to reflect on how the first year of mandated next-generation assessments went for educators and students. One thing is remarkably different this year from others: the usual sense of closure that accompanies the end of the exam season has been overwhelmingly replaced by feelings of anxiety and frustration. Eye-opening student protests and assessment complications have brought notoriety to this year’s testing experiences and garnered significant attention from media outlets nationwide. From news updates1 discussing glitches with computer-based testing in Minnesota, Nevada, and Florida, as well as a handful of other states, to a TV talk show spot weighing in on the overuse of standardized testing, education has been catapulted into the spotlight. More specifically, a slew of headlines has established “opt out” as an all-too-familiar term among stakeholders of education.

Long Island Opt Out, created and endorsed by a grassroots movement originating in Long Island, New York, is targeting standardized tests in schools by encouraging parents to withdraw their students from state assessments altogether.2   Although the movement started out as just a small parent collaboration effort, it has snowballed into a national debate. Now, education reformists and officials have been pitted against teachers and parents, resulting in state initiatives addressing parent-led opt-out movements nationwide.

The movement has cited the narrowing of curricula due to an excessive volume of Common Core assessments, inaccuracies in the ability of standardized tests to measure student performance, teacher evaluations dependent on testing results, and student anxiety tied to high-stakes testing as reasons for protesting state tests.3 Regardless of the exact motivations, parents are choosing to exercise their voices and are forcing education officials to take notice, as the following examples illustrate: 

  • In New York, 200,000 students opted out of exams, with some districts reporting over 50% of students at their campuses not testing4
  • In New Jersey, 3.8% of 3rd through 6th graders and 14.5% of high school juniors chose to forego assessments5
  • In Colorado, approximately 5,000 students participated in walk-outs6. An additional 2,000 students participated in walk-outs in New Mexico7
  • Student resistance was reported in Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and many other states

Opt-out movements have provoked states to examine and consider limiting the number of standardized tests they administer or to scrap Common Core assessments altogether in favor of building their own. States have even updated or issued policies clearly prohibiting or outlining opt-out procedures for their schools.

Although opting out has increased publicity and support for those hoping to eliminate standardized tests, opponents of the movement feel that simply opting-out of testing does not do enough to create real change in the system. For instance, even in states with opt-out numbers as high as New York’s, experts predict that this will amount to just 1% of city students opting out of testing overall.8  One triumph of the movement, though, is that it created a public forum which gives power to parents to demand a voice in their child’s education. Annual polls illustrate the concerns of parents, who question not just standardized assessments but also the Common Core State Standards that the tests are based on.

Despite the numerous Common Core assessments in place today, the Common Core State Standards Initiative never intended to promote the creation of a myriad of assessments aimed at evaluating student proficiency. Nor did the creators of the standards anticipate that they would be enforced as a packaged curriculum for classroom teaching and test preparation; least of all, did they predict the standards’ use in teacher evaluations.9 Instead, the national effort led by a coalition of states designed and developed the Common Core State Standards as high-quality expectations aimed at preparing students for success and readiness in college and careers.  

Despite the initial intentions for the Common Core, most of us are left asking, “Now what?” Where will testing go from here? Wherever your opinion of opt out may fall, here are some key takeaways to consider:

  • Standardized testing isn’t going away anytime soon, so helping your students prepare is essential.
  • Assessments have a very significant purpose in the classroom and help provide support for effective learning.
  • Opting out brings to light many of the issues involved in standardized testing, but it is clearly not a solution. 

Over the next few weeks, we will continue this series of blog posts on the state of assessment and examine testing as a necessary evil, recognizing its valuable contributions to learning, while also exploring alternatives to standardized assessments. In the meantime, we would love to hear about preparation strategies and alternative assessment practices that you are currently using or exploring for your learners!

 

1. “More than a dozen states report trouble with computerized Common Core tests” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/25/more-than-a-dozen-states-report-trouble-with-computerized-common-core-tests/

2. “Long Island, NY: Epicenter of Opt Out Movement” http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/16/long-island-ny-epicenter-of-opt-out-movement/

3. Book review of The Test http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/books/review/the-test-by-anya-kamenetz.html

4. “Opt-Out Parents Have a Point” http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/05/05/parents-opting-out-of-common-core-tests-have-a-point

5. “N.J. Opt-Out Stats: Under 5 Percent for Early Grades, Near 15 Percent for H.S.” http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2015/04/nj_opt-out_stats_under_5_percent_for_early_grades_near_15_percent_for_hs.html

6. “Students Around the Country Are Opting Out of Tests, Even If State Law Doesn't Allow It” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/07/state-opt-out-policy_n_6820198.html;

7. “Mass Student Opt Out at Boulder’s Fairview High School” http://dianeravitch.net/2014/11/14/mass-student-opt-out-at-boulders-fairview-high-school/

8. “Only 1% of city students opted out of state standardized tests: study” http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/1-city-students-opted-state-tests-study-article-1.2217371

9. “Fact Sheet – Common Core and Assessments” http://usny.nysed.gov/docs/common-core-assessment-faq.pdf