Opting Out Works Against Students and Teachers

Student assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are designed to “get very low-achieving students into college and to lower above-average student achievement in order to close demographic gaps,” Sandra Stotsky argues in the opinion pages of the New Boston Post. Stotsky doesn’t think educators need tests either, which is why she encourages parents to have their students opt-out. She argues, “Is it the case that our teachers are incapable of discerning students who can read and write from those who can’t?”

While Stotsky suggests parents will “stick it to the man” by refusing state tests, she overlooks the fact that opting out hurts students, teachers and schools. High-quality assessments are an important tool to determine whether students are building the skills and knowledge they need to move on to higher level material.

As one teacher in Tennessee put it: “How would we know what kids know without assessment? That’s the purpose of testing kids—to figure out what they know and are able to do.”

High-quality assessments provide a snapshot of how well students are developing fundamental skills. That, in turn, allows parents and educators to provide the support their kids need to get on a path that prepares them for success after high school. “Tests can be useful tools to help us all understand how our children are thinking,” explains Maryann Woods-Murphy, New Jersey’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.

The insight that good tests provide is especially important for traditionally low-performing student populations. Last year 12 national civil rights groups urged parents to oppose opt-out efforts. “We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” these leaders said in a statement.

Stotsky suggests assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards aim to “get very low-achieving students into college and to lower above-average student achievement.” But evidence shows states’ implementation of high-quality tests has raised the bar in classrooms.

An Achieve analysis finds that more than half of states have significantly closed their Honesty Gaps. “[States] should really be commended for starting to be more transparent with parents and educators about how their kids are doing,” says Sandra Boyd, chief operating officer of Achieve. “It really is the first step in improving outcomes.”

A Harvard University study also finds states have tightened their definitions of proficiency since implementing Common Core State Standards and assessments aligned to them. “Now, in the wake of the Common Core campaign, a majority of states have made a dramatic move forward,” Paul Peterson, coauthor of the report, wrote earlier this year.

Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, put it simply in a memo last fall. “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or a career…For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”