Going Back to Old Tests Won’t Improve States’ Accountability Systems

States’ accountability systems are broken because “leaders from every quadrant” have failed to incorporate parents’ and communities’ concerns, writes Eric Mason, Colorado Springs School District 11 Director of Assessments, on Chalkbeat Colorado. “We have arrived here because leaders should have asked what their stakeholders wanted and needed. Instead, tests have just gotten longer and more complex.”

Mason suggests that by getting rid of PARCC, Colorado officials will quell opposition to state assessments. “If we commit to this, and demand better of test-makers…we will see opt-outs decrease, and maybe, just maybe, more equity in schools.”

That’s similar to an argument by Sandra Stotsky, who makes broader strokes against high-quality assessments in the New Boston Post. Stotsky contends, “There are other forms of accountability – and maybe, just maybe, another form of accountability, or even hybrids of existing forms, might lead to gains in U.S. student achievement.”

However, high-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student growth and to provide support where students need it – a reality Mason acknowledges. PARCC is one of the best test options available, providing accurate measures of student readiness and aligning closely with good classroom instruction.

Independent analyses by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that PARCC outperforms states’ old “bubble tests” and even most next-generation assessments. Specifically, both reports note that PARCC accurately reflects student understanding, aligns well with effective teaching and captures the content of states’ learning goals.

Those qualities alleviate pressures to “teach to the test,” because good instruction is the best preparation teachers can provide. And, unlike states’ old tests, PARCC hones in on students’ understanding, providing clear insight about how teachers and parents can best provide support.

Pam Reilly, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year and a participant in the NNSTOY study, explains, PARCC “tests aren’t perfect. No test is…But I can say with confidence these new assessments are the kind we should want our kids to take.”

We agree with Mason that opting out undermines the value and integrity of good tests. It puts students at a disadvantage and provides less information to parents and teachers. At the same time, it does not address underlying concerns about testing policy.

“Let’s be clear: There are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett cautions. “Opting out is not one of them. Refusing to participate in assessments puts students, parents and teachers at a disadvantage, and it does little to address legitimate concerns about the quality and volume of state tests.”

Neither is it likely that reverting back to weaker tests will mollify opt-out proponents. States that have “gone it alone” have incurred significant costs and disruptions, only to produce what are likely to be inferior tests.

A Chalkbeat article notes: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

“Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process,” Jim Cowen wrote previously.

Instead, parents and communities should work with educators to continue to build on assessment and testing policy, to make them more effective and less time consuming. Numerous organizations have created tools to help parents work towards better, fairer and fewer tests. We have compiled several tools and encourage parents to learn more here.