TODAY Show Misses the Mark on Assessments

This morning, the TODAY show ran a segment on the New York’s movement to opt out of assessments. The piece featured two Long Island parents who assert that they have opted their kids out, claiming that assessments are harmful. According to the Today Show, the opt-out activists assert that assessments:

  1. a) take time away from instruction;
  2. b) don’t measure real learning;
  3. c) hurt teachers.

But opt out proponents are mistaken.


Assessments shouldn’t take time away from instruction

Students are learning what they need to know for state assessments in the classroom every day. The intent of assessments is to take the temperature of how students are growing academically, according to the expectations the state has set. And because Common Core-aligned assessments ask students to think critically and show their work, “test prep” as we know it has become unnecessary.

“Decisions to scrap core content instruction in favor of test prep are leadership decisions, not policy decisions,” explains Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent of New York’s Partnership Schools, wrote in an insightful op-ed in The 74. “The best ‘test prep’ we can offer our students is knowledge rich instruction in the core content areas.”

Additionally, New York officials have made significant changes to the state’s assessment polices, including shortening the tests, and giving students more time to complete them (thereby lessening any stress about time constraints).


Assessments have real value to measure learning

Assessments are one of many tools that educators, parents, and policymakers can use to see how students are progressing. What the TODAY Show failed to mention is how important the information assessments provide is to low-income families and families of color in particular.

“We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” 12 national civil rights groups wrote in a statement last year. “Anti-testing efforts… sabotage important data and rob us of the right to know how our students are faring.”

State assessments also have unique value in that they provide an independent external measure of student achievement, rather than relying solely on school and individual teacher’s evaluations. As a recent study shows, this has particular benefit to minority students. As Porter-Magee explains:

“Recently, a Johns Hopkins University study found that ‘when evaluating a black student, white teachers expect significantly less academic success than black teachers,’ and that ‘this is especially true for black boys.’

This isn’t the first study to demonstrate that teachers often have different expectations for students of color (see here for another), and together, these studies suggest the very real need for independent measures to ensure all students are being held to the same bar regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”


Assessments don’t hurt teachers, they provide crucial information

In addition to shortening the tests, New York officials have put a moratorium on using the results in teacher evaluations. And contrary to the idea that they “hurt teachers,” assessments provide valuable information about how students are doing in a number of categories.

In fact, State Teachers of the Year reported in a recent survey that the newer state assessments better measure cognitive complexity, are better aligned with the kinds of strong instructional practices they believe should be used in the classroom, and support great teaching and learning throughout the school year.