Dear Community Alliance for  Public Education:

Every year we hear about this “opting out” business. We aren’t big fans of standardized tests, but we don’t want our child to lose out. It says on the opt-out form that we will be missing “valuable information” about our child’s progress if she doesn’t take the test. 

Would I be preventing her teachers from knowing how she’s doing academically? 

Sincerely, A Curious & Cautious Parent

Dear C&C:

The Smarter Balanced assessment used in Oregon now is only one possible measure of students’ work in school, and it is by no means the best. It measures a very limited slice of the whole delicious pie of your child’s total learning experience.

We suggest that if you want to know how your child is doing in school, talk to her teachers.

Teachers work closely with kids day after day (snow permitting!) and rely much more on class work, performance tasks and chapter tests, which are more authentic and accurate indicators of how a child is progressing academically. You want a complete picture of your child as a student, not just a score.

Dear CAPE:

I do not understand why so many people are refusing Smarter Balanced assessments. My kids do just fine on the tests! They’re not stressed out, plus it’s good practice for them when they have to take the SAT to get into a good college. Why can’t other kids just study harder and then do well on the tests too? 

From, Parent of an Achiever

Dear Achiever:

It’s great that your kids are successful and work hard. But this struggle is about all kiddos. Large numbers of children, who are as valuable and important as your special snowflakes, are suffering under this test-driven model of schooling — kids who are not natural test takers, have special educational or emotional needs, are learning English as their second language, have cultural and financial backgrounds different from yours or don’t own a computer for practice, and who therefore may not be as successful on the tests. They can’t just “study harder” because the test is not about learning, it’s about test taking. Ultimately, all students — our whole society — will suffer if our children grow up to be effective test-takers but not critical and creative thinkers.

Dear CAPE:

I don’t like standardized tests and would prefer to opt my child out, but other parents tell me that opting could harm my school’s rating and its stature in the community. This in turn could impact my property value. Is that true?

Signed, Gimme an A!

Dear A:

Imagine you live in a neighborhood where the elementary school has an “A” on its state’s report card. Much of that grade is made up of students’ scores on standardized tests. It doesn’t reflect the wonderful teachers, the dynamic principal, the garden program, its language immersion program, the wonderful talent show every year, or its annual school wide immersive study of the ocean ecosystem. 

Imagine what would happen if folks started refusing to participate in the system by which these grades are assigned? What if your school’s grade went from “A” to “C” and the only thing that had changed was the refusal to take the tests? Would you move? Would you transfer your child to a different school, one with an “A” from the state? Why would property values go down when everything that means anything is still in place?

Dear CAPE:

I took standardized tests in school, and I turned out fine. We need to know whether our teachers and schools are doing their job and testing is the only way to objectively measure school quality!

Sincerely, Data Junkie

Dear D J:

Standardized tests are only one type of measurement, and if they are used as the be-all and end-all, they can be misleading at best, and devastating to schools and students at worst. Our kids average 112 standardized tests in their school careers — 25 times as many tests as you did! Clearly, they are dominating all other types of measurement by monopolizing time, attention and money. We recommend a more balanced assessment for Oregon students. By opting out, parents can join a real conversation about the kind of education we want.

Deanna Chappell Belcher is a teacher, learner and a parent. Geoff Barrett is a high school teacher and parent. Both are members of CAPE, The Community Alliance for Public Education, a coalition of parents, teachers, professors, students and community members who challenge the many assaults on public education and who believe in a strong public education as the foundation for American democracy. We meet most Wednesdays at 4:30 pm at Perugino in Eugene. Visit CAPE’s Web site

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