High-Quality Assessments Aren’t a Punishment – They Are a Tool for Teachers, Parents and Students


Writing in Commonwealth Magazine, Sandra Stotsky argues that the amount of energy and resources put towards curbing students from opting out of state assessments “makes one wonder what these tests are really for.” Policymakers have not “made it clear why anyone but a low-achieving kid should be taking any test for accountability,” Stotsky adds.

High-quality assessments are one of the best tools teachers and parents have to measure student development, and to provide support when and where their kids need it. And as states have begun to implement rigorous, consistent academic standards and exams aligned to those expectations, families have begun to receive accurate, actionable information.

An analysis by Achieve this year found that a majority of states have significantly closed discrepancies between self-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. States “should really be commended for starting to be more transparent with parents and educators about how their kids are doing,” said Sandra Boyd, chief operating officer for Achieve. “It really is the first step in improving outcomes.”

Likewise, a Harvard University study finds states have overwhelming raised proficiency benchmarks over the past two years. “The Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States,” the report concludes.

Across the country, states that have put their full support behind implementation of the Common Core and aligned assessments are beginning to see improvements in student performance.

“Although it’s too early to plant a flag, initial results indicate… the original promise of the Common Core is working,” Jim Cowen wrote this week. “This year’s initial assessment results demonstrate that when states have avoided political theater – and instead focused attention on supporting students and teachers – they experienced notable improvements.”

By contrast, states that have “gone it alone” on student assessments, or taken the ill-advised “repeal-and-replace” path with standards, have introduced disruption and uncertainty for teachers and students. While most states are providing families with accurate and actionable information about student performance, states that seek to appease critics by replacing high-quality assessments risk following in the footsteps of Oklahoma.

Criticizing the U.S. Department of Education for requiring states to meet participation rates, Stotsky suggests such regulations target schools that use Common Core-aligned tests. However, federal requirements apply to all states—not just those that use the Common Core. It is plain wrong to suggest federal authorities are using regulation to push Common Core State Standards or associated exams on schools.

Stotsky compares state accountability requirements to the Soviet Union’s persecution of dissidents and claims there is a connection between the Common Core and mental health issues. Not only are such allegations offensive, they completely ignore reality.

In states like New York and in others across the country, a growing cadre of educators, parents, civil rights leaders and policymakers is encouraging communities to opt-in to good assessments. “Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” the New York Post editorialized recently. “They provide critical feedback about students, teachers and schools.”

While Stotsky and others suggest opting out is a valiant act of civil disobedience, the reality is such efforts put students at a disadvantage and do little to improve testing policies.

“Let’s be clear: there are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies. Opting out is not one of them,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote this year. “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.”

Stotsky and a small group of naysayers will continue to make outrageous accusations meant to stir fear among parents. But the fact remains, states are overwhelmingly sticking with the Common Core and high-quality assessments—and students, teachers and communities are reaping the benefits.