GUEST OPINION: Finding right balance of standardized tests
One can hardly pick up any newspaper or magazine these days without seeing examples of the growing frustration that parents have about the standardized tests that are mandated by each of the states as part of the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
The guest commentary from Stacy Craft, which ran on Sunday, was certainly an example of what is presented in many of those articles. The latest controversy started this month with the testing of high school seniors in science and social studies for the first time in the history of state testing in Colorado.
While the amount of testing is sometimes overstated, it certainly is something we want to look at. For instance, in Stacy’s guest opinion, she states that students lose 72 days to testing. In our calculations, where we include both the state and district tests, we document that less than 1 percent of instructional time is used for testing in a school year at the primary (K-2) grades and up to 3 percent of instructional time, or about 37 hours, of testing in more heavily impacted grades, such as the eighth grade where students take the English language arts, mathematics and science tests. We are doing all we can to reduce any district-required exams. The district exams are given to measure student progress and help inform instructional practices.
In response to the comments regarding the Common Core, the district started the transition to the new Colorado Academic Standards at least four years ago. Stacy is correct in stating that some of the standards are very aggressive. They are a direct response to the concerns expressed nationally about whether or not students in the United States were receiving rigorous-enough content. The new Colorado Academic Standards (which contain most of the Common Core standards) should prepare our students to stack up to students across the county and across the world in our global society.
It is extremely rare for students to opt out of the ACT, which is given to all Colorado juniors, or any of the Advanced Placement exams. Colorado is one of 12 states that provide the ACT to all juniors with the hope of measuring college readiness and encouraging students to see themselves as college material.
This free opportunity is often welcomed by students and parents because a test such as the ACT has external currency to our students, as most colleges and universities across the country accept the ACT has a measure of a students’ readiness for college. So it reminds us that we must help students see the relevance of the assessments that we give them, so they will take them as seriously as they do the ACT.
As is mentioned in the guest opinion, we are required by state and federal law to give the assessments. Not only could the district face accountability sanctions, but certainly could face a loss of federal money if we refused to take them. If parents and citizens do not believe these tests should be required, they need to contact their state and federal legislators to change the requirements. As we are a public school, we must follow the laws and rules that govern public schools.
In addition, I want to be honest and let you know that I believe there is value in knowing how our schools are doing in relation to other schools and districts, as well as what areas of our instructional program may be lacking. I also know as a parent, I have always wanted to know where my children compare with what is considered proficient or advanced for a particular skill or area.
Are we concerned that testing of seniors will continue to be a difficult sell? Most definitely.
But just because we feel that there is too much testing doesn’t mean that none of the testing has value. It is incumbent upon us to examine each of the tests to see if it yields the amount of value needed to offset the loss in instructional time. We want to ensure that each of our schools are preparing our students comparably across the district, across the state and across the nation.
Have we reached the tipping point on assessments? It appears that we may have, at least at some grades, but it will take all of us working together and with our legislators to find the right balance.
We have been in contact with the state to express our views. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further or want to share your thoughts. In addition, as Stacy put in her column, send an email to the Colorado Standards and Assessment Task Force who are studying this issue to inform further legislation at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diana Sirko is superintendent Roaring Fork School District Re-1.
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