Galesburg Register-Mail: Editors Roundtable - Allow opt out for school tests?

http://www.galesburg.com/article/20150426/OPINION/150429794

By Lisa Coon

April 26, 2015

Question: Should Illinois pass a bill to allow students to opt out of mandatory state tests?

Give Common Core/PARCC testing a chance

I don't support the bill by Rep. Will Guzzardi to allow parents to request their kids not take mandatory testing. Sure, if there is a medical or psychological reason for a student to opt out of the test, then the parent should present a note from the respective professional and the school district should honor that. But that should be the same guiding principle for previous testing as well as the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test.

Schools have to be accountable and testing has long been our metric for determining success. If not tests, then what? Before the highly politicized PARCC testing, there was the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

What's new here is the federal connection to funding and the politics of Common Core curriculum. And the belief by many teachers that the results will be used to judge job performance.

There's too much energy here being put into fighting Common Core and PARCC tests. Let's give it a try and adjust as we go. — Tom Martin, editor

Legislators need compromise to best serve students

As a recent story in the Kansas City Star reported, school testing is at a crossroads as students take standardized exams.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing — or FairTest — has been watching America’s assessment habits for three decades, said its public education director, Bob Schaeffer. “And never,” he said, “have I seen this level of grassroots assessment reform activism.”

I believe teacher assessments — not standardized tests — are still the best way to test children to see if they are making progress.

The PARCC tests being implemented by Illinois can be stressful for the students to take, and stressful for the teachers to prepare for and administer. There is a growing sentiment against standardized testing. And groups like FairTest are championing the opt-out movement that is spreading strongly in several states, including Illinois.

Though it’s not widely publicized, parents can already opt out of their children taking the tests. I think this option should remain, without penalty.

While allowing entire districts to opt out of the current standardized tests would seem legitimate, loss of federal funding as a penalty for doing so is a real concern. Federal penalties of up to a billion dollars a year for non-compliance seems a bit extreme.

I hope our state legislators can come up with a fair compromise that best serves our children. —Jay Redfern, assistant editor

Rep. Will Guzzardi’s bill has got to be one of the dumbest pieces of legislation proposed lately. Let’s start with the potential loss of up to $1 billion in federal funding. That’s money intended to help low-income students.

The merit of standardized tests, PARCC in particular, is hotly debated.

Consider this note from ProCon.org: “93% of studies have found student testing, including the use of large-scale and high-stakes standardized tests, to have a ‘positive effect’ on student achievement, according to a peer-reviewed, 100-year analysis of testing research completed in 2011 by testing scholar Richard P. Phelps.”

Then again, ProCon.org also states, “A May 26, 2011, National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working.”

The war rages on. The conclusion can only be that the culture of standardized testing needs to change. For now we need to play the hand we’ve been dealt and work on improving the system. We must develop an equitable way to evaluate student learning and educator performance. Opting out is not the answer. — Rob Buck, local news editor

No favors for education with this bill

I find it mind boggling that lawmakers would even consider this bill.

This is fallout from the recent PARCC testing, which is tied to the new educational standards most states have adopted, Common Core.

I wonder, was there this "opt out" question raised when students began being tested via the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam, which included the ACT?

How else is a state to evaluate the achievement of its students? How else can the "achievement gap" we hear so much about be dealt with if there is not test data to use to compare Illinois students via demographical information? How else is education to receive federal funding to help those most in need if you don't have the data to prove there are students in need of additional services?

A member of Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration sent a letter to lawmakers this past week, noting that the state has entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that it will test 95 percent of public school students in third through eighth grade and high schools in order to receive funding for low-income students. A reduction in federal funding for the state is a "possible consequence" of not meeting that threshold, lawmakers were told.

I don't think legislators should be testing the feds as to what those "possible consequences" may be. Education funding has already taken a hit in this state, to put federal funding at risk would be irresponsible.

The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial from March of this year, stated it best:

"It should be harder to avoid this test (PARCC) than a note from home. ... A parent who interferes with a state test, who by whim or conviction substitutes his judgment for that of educators', may think he is doing his child a favor. He is not."

I agree.