I know that you were especially concerned about opt-outs in Northeast Ohio after hearing that Lorain would be hit hard. Indeed, that district was. I was surprised, and glad, that the vast majority of Ohio districts didn't see grades plummet from low participation rates; still, it's alarming to see a school like Indianola K–8 (a Columbus arts magnet program in my own neighborhood of Clintonville) receive an F on Performance Index because of its number of opt-outs. Based on your discussions with superintendents, do you think the opt-out movement is gaining or losing steam? How can we make parents more aware that it's hurting their schools, their districts, and historically underserved kids, for whom accurate and reliable data systems are most important?
I too am concerned about the opt-out problem. I believe that more opt-outs are going to become the norm, at least judging from discussions among folks with whom I'm allied. I'll be curious to see if more conservative folks, whose opposition to Common Core seemed to drive some opting out last year, will continue with the new regime. What many of the opt-out parents don't understand is that opting out can really hurt their schools and kids. That's because opt-outs hurt districts' Performance Index (PI) scores. If PI drops, that matters because the scores are used for many purposes, from determining which districts qualify for new charter schools (which, interestingly, are the devil to many of the same opt-out people) to determining whether a school has to be reconstituted or closed. If these consequences are triggered, we theoretically want them to be based on performance, not lack of participation.
As a parent of an eleven-year-old with test anxiety, I get that people don't like all the testing. But we still need a way to determine how kids are doing. Where you and I may diverge is whether the tests should determine things like whether a school or district is punished, or even closed. But that's another perspective for another day. Under the current accountability regime, though, there is little doubt that opting out hurts kids and schools overall. As I've said before, testing isn't the problem; kids have been tested since we started educating them. What we do with the testing, and how it can lead to serious consequences for students’ educational opportunities—that's the source of my side's greatest objections.
I imagine that the PARCC tests drove opt-outs last year, so I’m hopeful that this year—with AIR assessments that are shorter and developed directly by the Ohio Department of Education with the input of Ohio teachers—parents will have less reason to conscientiously object. We’re on the same page regarding the fact that opting out really hurts schools and kids. For folks that dislike charter schools (or vouchers), that’s an interesting point to raise to them regarding the importance of full participation so that schools and districts don’t wrongly wind up on the charter/voucher eligibility lists. I’m pro-charter and pro-income-targeted-voucher, but if that argument works for the opt-out crowd, so be it. They need to consider the consequences of their decisions. To me, there’s also a moral argument worth pointing out to parents. As my colleague Robert Pondiscio has pointed out, “Those most likely to be negatively affected by the opt-out impulse are low-income children of color, for whom testing has been a catalyst for attention and mostly positive change.” But for parents who feel strongly about standardized testing, how can they be convinced otherwise? Even when evidence points to the damage of opting out—to their schools and to the accountability system as a whole (and specifically to poor students)—is that enough to change their minds?
I think educating parents is a big part of this. In my district, we had zero opt-outs last year. That was primarily due to some good, vigilant administrators nipping issues in the bud. I think we have to explain to the viscerally opposed parents that standardized testing has been and will be around for a long time. It is, after all, difficult to find purely original tests. Their objection, which I believe to be well founded, is centered on the use of the standardized tests for accountability purposes. After all, every report card measure (except graduation rate) simply represents a different way of breaking down the test scores, whether for student growth or demographic group.
However, it only measures how kids perform during a few of the thousand hours they spend in school over a year. I think deemphasizing the test score in the accountability structure and including better, more sophisticated assessments of things like love of learning, creativity, critical thinking, practical skills and other very important, yet currently un-assessed measures, will engender more confidence in the accountability system.
But we have to explain to parents that the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and PSAT are all standardized tests that have high stakes attached to them. That doesn't mean we should fix those high stakes to every test, but Ohio's assessments are certainly not out of character with those other commonly accepted tests.