Reimagining Education

The Opt-Out Movement Threatens Progress on Accountability

Every spring millions of students across the country sharpen their number two pencils, hear whispered words of encouragement from their principals, parents and teachers, and buckle down to take their state’s standardized test. For most schools and kids, this year is no different. However, in small pockets around the country, including here in Missouri, children and their parents are wrongly being encouraged to opt out of these standardized tests.

I certainly do not begrudge the teachers and parents who have concerns about standardized tests because, of course, man-made tests can always be improved. This movement has been lead in large part by the anti-accountability advocate, Diane Ravitch. Ravitch, who knows better, is spreading misinformation about the purpose of these tests in order to undo the progress the United States has made toward closing the achievement gap and creating a more accountable public education system.

Ravitch says she believes children should opt out of standardized tests because they cannot be used for diagnosing students’ progress, strengths, challenges, etc. However, standardized tests were never meant to be used for diagnosis. They were not meant to replace running records, teacher created assessments, or a teacher’s instincts about what their students need. However, as Ravitch surely knows, these authentic assessments and diagnostic tools don’t exist in a vacuum. They should be aligned to state standards and grade level expectations. The standardized tests exist to let parents, administrators, colleagues, and the public know how close or how far a teacher’s kids are from meeting those standards. Thus, standards and standardized tests were created to add additional value and direction to teachers’ diagnostic tools and authentic assessments, not to replace them.

Ravitch also makes the case that these tests are only used to punish teachers and are only implemented because politicians do not trust teachers. This is also wildly inaccurate. In states where teacher evaluations have been tied to student academic growth on standardized tests, few teachers have actually been given poor ratings. In fact, using student growth to evaluate teachers has resulted in better administrative support for struggling teachers and better recognition of teachers who are seeing growth year after year.

The anti-testing fervor being pushed by Ravitch is dangerous because without the data these tests produce, our education system will hide children who are not learning. For example, without a standardized test the forty-four percent achievement gap between white children and African American children in Columbia, Missouri would go unnoticed. Before standardized tests, it would have been impossible to celebrate the success school systems like the Jennings and Spickard school districts in Missouri have seen in recent years. Before education policy-makers demanded accountability in our education system, teachers did not have objective information to review when trying to hone and improve their own practice.

It is time for parents and teachers to put an end to the anti-accountability movement. Do not let Ravitch and others like her succeed at hiding American education success stories. And most importantly, do not let them hide the places where we still need to do a lot of work, because if we cannot see where our problems are, we won’t be able to fix them for the next generation.

-Kate Casas, State Policy Director

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