Assessments Matter: Why you shouldn’t opt-out

In the second part of a two part series, Los Angeles teacher Robert Jeffers and teacher and columnist John McCrann respond to a parent, who doubts that vendors can offer assessments aligned to the high-quality education his fourth grade son receives at his private school student in Brooklyn, NY – and questions the pressure and competition surrounding testing culture.

The notorious competitive testing culture at New York’s private schools and whether to opt out of those high-stakes assessments is an issue, yes. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the notion of opting students out of annual state assessments at public school – test that are not only required by law, but that are also an important part of determining how well individual children are doing academically, and whether schools are meeting the needs of all students.

In his letter, the private school parent asserts that he doesn’t really see any point in his son sitting for an exam that “won’t give him or his family useful information about his learning.”

But these statewide assessments do provide valuable information, not only to schools and policy makers who use it to inform and improve education policies but also to teachers who incorporate the information into their strategy with individual students in the classroom, and to parents who deserve transparent information about their child’s performance.

While McCrann argues that the opt out debate should not be pinned exclusively on white, middle class parents, the civil rights community has been clear about the valuable information that assessments provide. For the civil rights community, consistent, accurate, data from annual statewide assessments helps them advocate for better lives and outcomes for their children. “These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity,” civil rights leaders explained in a letter last year. “But the anti-testing efforts that appear to be growing in states across the nation, like in Colorado and New York, would sabotage important data and rob us of the right to know how our students are faring.”

As Jeffers points out in his response, opting out won’t help improve the system for teachers or students, and that abandoning accountability systems could create “unforeseen consequences.” Instead, he turns his attention to the future, one in which there is “a balanced educational system that prioritizes real-world, experiential learning” and where “better, fewer tests” reign.

While McCrann asks the parent to opt out, Jeffers says “The notion that “I don’t want to” or “it’s not perfect” are reasons to undermine a school board decision sets a dangerous precedent. How are we to approach future assessments, expectations, rules, requirements in a world where some folks can opt out whenever they please?”

In an op-ed last year, Chris Minnich, a parent and executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, encouraged his fellow parents to have their kids take the state test while also encouraging parents to help improve the way we test kids in the future:

“Engage your local school leaders in a conversation about your concerns. Parents can reach out to their district superintendent, their school board or the state education department to find out what efforts may already be underway or how they can help find the right balance in the amount and type of assessments kids are taking…”

The Center for American Progress, agreeing on the importance of assessments but concerns about over-testing, developed the Testing Bill of Rights – which articulates a set of common-sense principles that can help in continuing the shift towards better, fairer, and fewer tests. The Testing Bill of Rights articulates the value of assessments that provide an objective measure of progress towards college and career-readiness.

Click here to sign the Testing Bill of Rights