Parents say they don’t need state test results

December 11, 2013

Last month, I asked whether parents and grandparents were worried about threats to annual testing caused by the national switch to the Common Core standards.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had warned that California would be shortchanging students and their families if it held to its plan not to report school test averages next year. Almost everyone who responded to me said Duncan was wrong.

I proposed in that column a year’s respite from reporting state test results, while teachers adjusted to the new Common Core lessons and tests. “Schools can give the new tests but use the results only for improving teaching methods, not for assessing students and teachers,” I wrote.

Virginia parent Wendy Hoskins was among many who think that was a good idea. In fact, she said she would be happy if her kids didn’t take the tests at all.

“Standardized tests do not give a true sense of a child’s abilities,” she said. “If it’s so great, why don’t private schools jump on the bandwagon?”

Jill Canfield, Virginia mother of two, said the state Standards of Learning tests make the end of the school year “absolute torture.” She said her seventh-grader “won’t fail his SOLs, but he sure as heck worries about failing them.”

Susan Richey, a parent and a substitute teacher in Loudoun County, said: “I heartily agree that the schools need a year off to figure out what’s going on with the new testing. It seems that we are testing for the sake of testing and that the results are not showing what kids know.”

Only one parent wrote in support of the state tests, which have been used to assess schools in this area and the country. “PGCResident” posted online that “I want to know how my children are measured based on test results benchmarks. I want to compare these results with what’s being done in class and then assessed based on instruction absorption . . . vs. semi-quarter progress and quarterly report card publication.”

The Prince George’s parent was annoyed that parents could only get their children’s state test score results if they asked for them. “They were once mailed to students’ homes for parents to receive, but that stopped a few years ago, presumably because of budget cuts,” the commenter said.

I think that concern is valid. Parents deserve to have an assessment of their child’s progress that is independent of what teachers say on report cards. I also think assessing schools with test score averages is a useful exercise. But I don’t like the current fad of rating individual teachers based on their students’ scores. It is too unreliable and erratic, and poisons the team spirit that is essential if a school’s faculty is to do its best work.

Mike Goldstein, founder of the high-performing MATCH charter school in Boston, said that a few parents might share the Prince George’s commenter’s interest in his children’s test score but that most don’t see the point. They are usually satisfied with what they learn from report cards and parent-teacher conferences.

“After all, parents in grades K, one, two, nine, 11 and 12 in many states don’t get standardized data,” Goldstein said. “Are they complaining? No.”

But somebody needs independent information and analysis of what is going on in our schools. Goldstein said the most important recipients of school data are school leaders such as himself, who are responsible for fixing weaknesses in instruction. That is what California plans to do with the results it gets from new tests being tried out next year. That should be enough for now. Then we must discuss how much testing beyond then.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.
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