The debate around student testing continues to escalate. Nationally, Congress is considering removing annual assessments as a requirement for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In Oregon, bills to allow students to opt out of annual testing or removing statewide annual assessments all together are being introduced in the legislative session.
While I agree we should engage in a thoughtful conversation about how we build an effective and balanced assessment system, I am concerned about the rising voices questioning the importance of statewide annual assessments, and the push to allow students to opt out of these tests.
An OEA workgroup commissioned by the Oregon Education Investment Board recently published a white paper proposing a system of assessments to support learning and foster student success. While the workgroup rightly highlights the need for better assessment literacy among educators, especially in formative and classroom summative assessments, it downplays the need to continue annual statewide assessments for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school as currently required.
Chalkboard Project supports the need for a highly effective and balanced assessment system. While teachers must be well versed in formative and classroom summative assessments to help make adjustments to daily instruction, this alone is not enough. The goal of assessment is to improve how our students learn and ensure we are providing the best learning environment possible. Eliminating annual statewide testing would undermine our ability to identify which schools and districts are excelling or struggling; which strategies work or don’t; and where the state should direct its resources. Most importantly, annual statewide assessments are the cornerstone of a public accountability system that ensures historically underserved students and those most at risk are not forgotten or minimized. Statewide assessments provide transparency and are a tool to further equity of access to quality teaching and opportunities to learn for all students.
Every healthy system needs an outside check to monitor progress. Annual statewide assessments provide just that. There are valid concerns about current testing systems. That’s why we support the need to audit the type and number of assessments currently administered in Oregon schools, because many of these test are mandated at the local school or district level, and are often redundant and unnecessary.
At a time when Oregon lags behind nationally in student achievement and high school graduation, getting rid of a useful tool for measuring student learning seems counter productive and irresponsible. We cannot dismiss accountability nor accept mediocrity. As parents, educators, and taxpayers, we should be confident that our state is educating our children, closing achievement gaps, and holding our education system accountable. Annual statewide assessments are an important tool to meet this need.