The Washington Post

Do parents want to see test results in 2014?

Several Virginia school boards and other prominent groups have asked the General Assembly to junk the current testing system in favor of something deeper and smarter that takes less time. The D.C. school administration is struggling over how best to score its annual exams. Montgomery County is wondering what to do about low scores on several annual tests it gives high school students.

This might be a good time for a testing holiday.

Most U.S. school systems are changing their annual exams to reflect the new Common Core standards. But schools have little experience teaching to that more challenging model. It makes no sense to assess teachers with student results on such new and inadequately understood exams.

So let’s take a year off. Schools can give the new tests but use the results only for improving teaching methods, not for assessing students and teachers.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says this is a terrible idea. He thinks it would be bad for students and parents. When California officials announced they were taking a break from releasing test results next year to make sure teachers were ready, he released a statement:

“Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools’ performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition. No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing.”

As usual, few policymakers have spent much time or energy asking parents whether, as Duncan asserts, they would feel shortchanged if they didn’t get test results next summer. D.C. schools got into trouble recently for not telling parents that the latest test scores were not based on a reformed scoring system the city had spent $2 million to create.

Various reform proposals, such as a widely circulated Virginia resolution asking for tests with “greater validity,” “more cost efficient sampling techniques” and “expedited test retakes,” have not been subjected to much parental feedback.

What is the view of us parents, and an even more neglected group, us grandparents? Would a year without test results freak us out? Do we want a different way of assessing students? Is Duncan right that we need that data every year? Or is he afraid he would look weak if he indulged an experiment using the results just internally?

E-mail me at mathewsj@
or post a comment at www.washington
. If you don’t want a year to go by without seeing new test results, please take the effort to write because, as is often the case, the people who want to make a change are much more motivated to express their views. I am hoping for a representative mix of opinion.

I once thought using test scores to rate schools and teachers was a good idea. I still think they are useful tools in assessing schools, but I no longer believe they work at the classroom level.

As I have said, “grading individual teachers with scores is too approximate, too erratic and too destructive of the team spirit that makes great schools.”

I had hopes that the switch to the Common Core tests would persuade the federal government and states to try other teacher rating systems. The odds are against that.

But it would be useful for parents and grandparents to take a more active role in the debate.

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



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