My parents never opted me out of a standardized test. And I never thought of opting my elementary school kids out of the state MSP tests. But I’m opting out of the SBAC. Why?
Because I looked at it, and I tried to imagine my kids taking it. It looked like a thoroughly unpleasant experience, with a clunky user interface and ambiguous questions, all for scores that will not give me or their teachers an accurate picture of their “readiness for college and career.” Best case, they’ll come home a little tired. Worst case, they’ll come home burned out and with less self-confidence about their ability to write and do math. And either way, whatever these scores are, they’re going on my kids’ permanent records.
I’m in good company. In New York, where this thing was piloted last year, some districts had opt-out rates of ten percent! The fact that so many parents are opting out is a sign that something is wrong — not with the parents or the teachers, or the schools, but with the test.
One of the rather serious problems is that parents and teachers can’t look at the test their students take. So when our kids get a score, we don’t really know what it means, or how to provide appropriate interventions. Let me tell a quick story about last year’s test to show what I mean.
At the beginning of the year, I sat down for a parent-teacher conference. He had the same teacher last year, and she and I have collaborated all year to help him improve his writing skills. But when she showed me the score on the state MSP writing test, it was a 2 — not meeting standard. She frowned.
“I don’t know why,” she said. “He’s actually doing quite well.”
I laughed. “I know why. He broke his wrist just before the test, remember?” He couldn’t handwrite, so he typed his essay for the first time ever. With a broken wrist. This wasn’t the way for him to demonstrate his abilities.
It would have been helpful for me, or his teacher, to have seen his completed test. Without it, we can’t know what went wrong, and what went right. For an accurate picture of his learning, we had to use other assessments. We used ones chosen by the teacher.
All in all, that little incident was no big deal. I’m glad he had the opportunity to spend a half-day taking a writing test, and glad that there were no negative consequences to the score. I’m glad that test wasn’t used for high-stakes purposes. I’d hate to see his teacher’s career impacted because of my son’s rollerblading mishap.
But the SBAC is different. It will be used for high-stakes purposes, if the bill proposed by the Washington State legislature passes. I refuse to participate in that.
It’s also a much longer test. The testing company claims it will take about 8 hours per student, but schools are setting aside 12 (plus makeups) and some parents are reporting it takes 16 hours. On top of that, there’s an estimated three to five hours of practice testing, just to help kids learn the user interface and understand what the test is asking.
Talk about overtesting!
There’s also no guarantee that this test measures what it says it measures. In theory, it measures the Common Core standards, which in theory, measure our kids’ “readiness for college and career.” I’m sorry, but this is guesswork.
And there are red flags that it’s wrong. Check out the English Language Learner scores in mathematics, projected by the Smarter Balance Consortium after field testing. It’s much lower than the scores for native English speakers. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. The language of mathematics is universal. If the scores are lower, it’s measuring mastery of English, not mastery of math.
A further red flag is that teachers have expressed serious concerns. The Washington State Education Association has passed a resolution supporting teachers who opt out, and the Seattle Education Association has come out against the tests.
It would have been sensible for the Washington State legislature to have taken our teachers’ professional opinions seriously when deciding whether to mandate this test in every classroom. But we don’t have a sensible legislature. They’re listening to lobbyists and the media, instead of teachers. They’re in contempt of court for failing to fully fund schools, and the fact that they are heaping another unfunded mandate on us tells me that they’re out of touch.
That means it’s down to us parents. Teachers in our school district have been threatened with grave misconduct if they don’t give the test and told not to share their personal opinions about the test with parents. But as parents, we have the freedom and the responsibility to make the best educational choices for our children. It’s time to use it.
So all things considered, it seemed to me that my kids would be better off engaging in a learning activity than taking the SBAC. I checked in with them, and they’re fine spending that 8 to 12 hours sitting and reading a book, or writing, or drawing, or doing Sudoku. All those things will help prepare them for “college and career.”
So I sent a courteous email to the principal and checked in to see if she needed additional information. I got a courteous and professional email back, and together we made alternative arrangements for my children, and that was that.
– Parent in Seattle