It’s testing time for California schools. Most of our children have just recently or will soon take the Smarter Balanced Assessment test. This means the calls home letting us know to make sure our kids get plenty of rest, have breakfast in the morning, and arrive to school on time. For our kids, it means hours upon hours of computer testing all week.
I have never admitted this publicly, but when my older son was in grade school, I opted him out of testing two years in a row. There was a general sense of exhaustion and push back with the amount of testing being placed on schools and students through the No Child Left Behind legislation. My son was in a school where many parents were leading the charge to do away with the testing. I agreed that testing did not provide a definitive assessment of how well my son was learning. I decided to join the parent movement and did not have him take the standardized test in 3rd or 4th grade.
Since that time, there have been many changes to California’s testing system, and we have moved from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Testing remains a constant element of both initiatives. However, ESSA is less punitive and decouples high-stakes decisions from testing outcomes. What remains is the intent to have an annual test to see how students are faring academically.
The funny thing is that I am a staunch believer in data. I have led nonprofits and education initiatives where the sole focus has been on measuring our effectiveness and using the data to achieve results. I use the California assessment data in my work and as a parent to see how my children’s school is doing. I love data.
However, I remain cautious about what we tell our students about testing and how we use the results. Just last week, I heard a story that stunned me. A friend’s 4th grade son told me he had a lot of anxiety about the test and never wants to do it again. He discussed how he rarely uses a computer for school work. His assignments don’t often require using a computer. Therefore, he isn’t used to typing. The current tests require proficient typing skills.
He also said that one of the school personnel who explained the test to students indicated that they had to do their very best or some of their teachers would not return the next year. This information further added to his stress and anxiety levels. On the car ride, as we were discussing the testing, he was already nervous about taking the test again next year.
I’m sure the school was not intending to instill a sense of fear in their students. But, perhaps now is a good time to reflect on our approach to and use of tests.
Schools should communicate with parents, students, and each other that this is merely an instrument to see how the children are doing collectively in understanding course material. The results are a data point, one of many, to gauge where to prioritize future investments.
It is especially important for schools to share accountability and increase transparency of test results. While the data is often reflected in the Local Control Accountability Plans or online, not all parents can readily access the information. Therefore, it would be good for schools to hold meetings one to two times a year with parents and stakeholders to review the SBAC and other internal testing results. Then, parents can see what progress is being made and have a better sense of how the information can be used for student improvement.
It’s been a long time since I opted my son out of testing. While I don’t think test scores are a definitive assessment of student learning, they are important. As educators and parents, we have to do more to come together to understand and use the testing data in a way that will move the needle on our student’s learning opportunities.
Raquel F. Donoso
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