The Denver Post guest commentary article about standardized testing in Colorado schools
The Denver Post; March 28, 2015 By Earl L. Wright and Ralph J. Nagel
From the schoolhouse to the statehouse, Coloradans want the best schools possible for our children. An important part of assuring this is creating a standardized test. Currently, our schools have overlapping testing requirements by local, state and national authorities. We agree this leaves students and teachers too occupied with preparing for tests and less time for real learning.
Standardized testing is needed to measure student programs and evaluate teachers and schools. But too much is distracting from our true mission. That’s why we support a fresh look at redundant testing requirements.
At the state legislature, a legitimate effort to streamline testing is on the verge of being hijacked. A coalition of teachers unions and some Republicans want to create a wide-open path for students to opt out of standardized tests altogether.
This seems like a giant step backward. For years, Republicans and reform-minded Democrats have broadly rejected opt-out legislation. They should this year, too.
Colorado is being pulled into a wider struggle. Nationally, teachers unions, backed by a small but vociferous band of activists who believe parents should be able to opt their children out of everything from vaccinations to standardized testing, are doing their best to tear down the testing systems that make school accountability possible.
In Colorado, the short-term aim of this unusual coalition is to pass Senate Bill 223. It would allow children to skip standardized tests for effectively any reason at all.
Instead of merely streamlining redundant testing requirements, the authors of this bill propose to give every student a ready-made, no-questions-asked hall pass to opt out of common tests altogether.
We reject the rhetoric from critics of standardized testing who seem to treat the taking of a standardized test as the near-equivalent of a CIA interrogation. The tests are difficult, which is exactly the point. Every parent, student, teacher and educational professional needs positive, hard analysis from which to wisely improve our student’s success. If we want our children to keep pace with their peers in China and India, then we must continually assess ourselves and improve our education outcome.
Closer to home, if an opt-out bill is passed, nefarious efforts could result in organizing to ensure sure that as many students as possible invoke that hall pass. Anyone who has followed school politics in Colorado know that, if the unions here excel at anything, it is in the low art of walkouts, mass protests and encouraged self-selection. Mark it down: If this bill passes, they’ll press students in large numbers to opt out.
The wider problem with the bill: Data derived from standardized tests is central to the state’s wider system of teacher and school accountability.
Ranking systems that allow parents to make informed choices about the best school for their children rely on standardizing testing data to compare schools and school districts across the state.
A system that invites mass non-participation in standardized tests makes meaningful comparison of schools — and therefore, meaningful school choice itself — difficult to achieve. The same is true of the state’s landmark teacher tenure reform law, enacted just a few years ago, which would be dramatically undermined in the absence of meaningful data sets that show whether a given teacher’s pupils are growing academically.
An invitation to wholesale non-participation in standardized testing is, in other words, more than a simple debate about school tests — it is a question that will determine in large measure whether Colorado is serious about meaningful, data-driven school accountability at all.
SB 223 is a dangerous departure from the longstanding, bipartisan consensus around accountability, choice and educational excellence in this state. Both parties in the legislature have worked with governors Roy Romer, Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper to build a public school system grounded in these values.
We hope the legislature returns to these high principles, and away from an opt-out bill that will surely take our schools backward.
Earl L.Wright is CEO of AMG National Bank and Trust and chairman of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable. Ralph J. Nagel is president of Top Rock Investments and a board trustee of ACE Scholarships.