January 8, 2016 Letter to Statesman Journal

If you are a parent worried about high-stakes testing at school, there’s something you can do about it – opt out.

The Student Assessment Bill of Rights, passed by the 2015 Oregon Legislature, requires schools to notify parents about opting student out of statewide summative testing. Administration, costs, name, type are included in the notification, along with the opt-out form and explanation. I’m opting my kids out and think you should, too.

Over the past 14 years, the national reform movement produced Common Core State Standards through the No Child Left Behind Act and local districts dutifully adopted these standards. The idea was to set federally-enforced national standards for local schools and test annually for accountability, providing a report card on the achievement gap. Under the next revision, Race to the Top, student test scores were tied to teacher evaluations.

What were the results? Standards and assessments were developed without parent or teacher input. To align with standards, Salem-Keizer School District uses instructional material downloaded from engageNY. The content is loaded with errors, omissions and typos. Annual assessments radically changed the learning environment, with much more time spent on test preparation.

Profiteers swarmed our communities, peddling unproven products with slick marketing. Pearson ReadyGen, a multi-million dollar online text material, was rolled out in half the elementary schools this year. They will be in my kids’ school next year, tracking every keystroke to measure achievement.

Massive data collection systems were created to manage this information. Student Longitudinal Data Systems track each child from birth or preschool onwards, including medical information, survey data and data from many state agencies such as the criminal justice system, child services and health departments.

After years of promises and creative destruction, little, if any, achievement gains are realized. Parents opted out hundreds of thousands of students across the nation. Many states waived or postponed enforcement. Clearly, a fix was needed to continue the reform movement.

Congress felt the pressure and enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last month, which loosens assessment requirements by shifting enforcement to states. This allows the opportunity for more local control. The result of compromise, the law opens the door for communities to develop their own standards.

Input from parents is crucial as state education leaders develop state standards. Oregon needs to qualify for the ESSA pilot for teacher-driven assessments that include creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills. Performance-based standards should replace Common Core State Standards.

The facts are against annual testing. No other advanced country does this to their children. Only conduct mandated ESSA assessments or stop annual testing all together. Stop the use of federal funding to finance online testing systems. Untie student performance from teacher evaluation and remove Student Learning Goals. Apply for Title II funding to research a teacher’s workplace condition. Keep our data local. These issues bear discussion.

Please talk to your school and elected officials and tell them your concerns about Common Core and annual testing, then opt-out.

Ross Swartzendruber is a parent and owner of Black Sheep Advertising, Inc., in Salem. He also serves as Straub Middle School Music Boosters.

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