Q: Parents are starting a testing "opt out" movement in our district. Some are against Common Core. Others feel their kids are test-stressed. Don't we need measures to know what kids are really learning? Why can't those who mandate the tests explain this better?
A: Several issues fuel the opt-out movement; too many tests is one of them. Others include contradictory policy decisions, political posturing, misinformation about the Common Core (no, it's not a federal mandate), parents' fears that kids are being pushed too far and teachers' worries that over-testing drains the joy from school.
One Florida educator told me recently, "Testing and the prep that goes with it will eat up 80 out of 180 school days this year. That's just crazy."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has acknowledged these concerns. He favors limits on testing, but told Florida civic leaders that when parents refuse to let their kids take statewide exams, "it robs educators of a means to measure progress and understanding of what our children know and don't know."
If your district has too many tests, it could choose well-designed ones that provide good data and use that information to improve teaching. Some states and districts are even starting to cut back. Palm Beach County, Florida, for instance, eliminated 55 tests this year.
Parents should push lawmakers and districts to take a good look at which tests matter and drop those that don't, says Bill Jackson, founder and president of GreatSchools, an organization that helps parents get a solid education for their children.
"Parents are smart," he says. "They know that test scores can't capture many of the qualities of a good school. But scores from a well-designed standardized test do tell you if the school is focused on the basics of reading and math. They offer a very simple, objective way of comparing two schools that may not have much else in common. If a parent finds that their school has a high percentage of students who are meeting state standards, that gives them something very valuable: peace of mind."
States also need to prepare parents if the test scores based on new assessments are likely to be lower than previous years, notes Jackson. The new tests "are a more accurate reflection of what students know and can do than past exams, and the results are more useful to classroom teachers."
Jackson applauds Kentucky, an early adopter of higher standards and new tests, for doing a good job of getting these messages out.
It's worth noting, says Jackson, that a "new report from the American Institutes for Research shows that students in Kentucky are making faster progress than students in states that haven't adopted the Common Core."
He advises parents to do their own homework. Start with the online resources below and those created by your state.
-- Common Core State Standards Initiative: corestandards.org/what-parents-should-know
-- Student Achievement Partners: achievethecore.org
-- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers: parcconline.org
-- Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium: smarterbalanced.org
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)