Annual Assessments Are About Improving a Student’s Chance at Success

Annual assessment season is right around the corner, and with it comes the annual clamor from opt-out proponents asking others to join them in having their children not show up for the annual tests.  The same opt-out arguments are being regurgitated in New York right now: the testing culture “is punitive in nature;” assessments put “incredible pressure on teachers to focus on improving standardized tests,” and; the tests don’t provide “a meaningful assessment of what a single student knows.”

High-quality assessments provide accurate information about student development, an important tool to improve instruction and meet learning needs. Parents’ refusal to allow their kids to participate undermines the integrity of that information, not only for their families but for entire communities.

The truth is most families strongly support high-quality assessments. Nearly four out of five parents favor annual assessments, and 73 percent support assessments that are comparable among states and school districts, according to a national Education Next survey. High-quality assessments are giving families better information, which is a necessary first step to improve student outcomes. Parents should resist the calls of those who want to turn back on these efforts.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives state and local leaders more room to continue to improve on testing policies. Parents can, and should, be part of those efforts, and we have compiled a set of tools and resources to help them partner with educators to work towards better, fairer and fewer tests.

Counter to what opt-out proponents contend, high-quality assessments specifically aligned to higher education standards are designed to closely match what students are learning – which alleviates pressures to “teach to the test.” As a result, the best preparation is good instruction.

Separate studies from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute find one of the strengths of assessments aligned to high, comparable education standards is that they better match “the kinds of strong instructional practices” that effective teachers employ in their classrooms. These high-quality assessments “actually deserve to guide classroom instruction rather than be condemned for mindless ‘test prep,” Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, wrote in the past.

Student performance has increased since states began administering assessments aligned to high, comparable learning goals especially among early-grade students, who have spent most or all of their education careers learning to meet high standards.  The results, as Jim Cowen has noted in the past, are further evidence that rigorous, comparable expectations and high-quality assessments are helping to improve student outcomes. The message is clear: Keep the bar high for students.

New York officials have made significant changes to improve its exams, including shortening the tests and giving students more time to complete them, and a recent analysis applauds the state for achieving proficiency rates closely aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). If parents really want to improve their student’s chances of success, schools and districts need to have consistent and measurable data to determine what’s working and what is not. Opting in is the best way for schools to improve their students’ chance of future success.