Let’s “Opt In” to Something Better than PARCC

posted on October 19, 2018 by Justin Trager

It is that time of year again. I take my children to their local APS schools and the conversation sparks up about the PARRC test; specifically why I should opt my children out of a test many people question. As a parent, teacher, and education reform advocate, I understand and share that feeling of skepticism and unease. The Opt Out Movement has grown as a way for people to express frustration with the PARRC. However, I believe that we need to do more than criticize and choose not to play; we need to articulate and offer an alternative.

It is time to start articulating what we do want for our students and the future of our state, instead of focusing on what we don’t want. While the National Center for Fair and Open testing cite some success of the Opt Out Movement in reducing the number of tests and lowering their stakes­‐ which I applaud‐ we need to do more than ask for less.

My other concern about the Opt Out Movement is that it is reflective of the privilege of educated and wealthier people.  According to Brookings Institution, wealthier school districts have a higher opt out rate, and a look at opt out rates in Albuquerque indicate a similar correlation between higher opt out rates with wealthier schools.  Advocating for quality public education should be about social justice.  We need to acknowledge and not take advantage of the benefits of class privilege; we need to make sure our work empowers all communities to demand better education.

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act provides the opportunity for states and local education leaders to articulate and set new standards for the outcomes they want their students to achieve. The Act opens up a whole new set of opportunities for New Mexicans to articulate what we, as a community, want for our young people and our future. We have the opportunity to challenge the premise of what politicians are telling us defines quality public education and student outcomes. We routinely hear arguments about the harm caused from too much testing, but what about questioning the current definition of what constitutes a quality education, and what prepares students for a prosperous future?

I am asking parents and teachers to take that next step. Protest has been used to express dissatisfaction, now lets work together to articulate what we want for our students. Lets create a more inspiring, meaningful alternative.

Over the past two years, the New Mexico Center for School Leadership has convened school leaders from across our community to begin this work. We have embarked on developing new metrics and tools that can document and measure the efficacy of public schools, because we all know student outcomes go beyond measuring their ability to take a standardized test. Students must be able to engage in the authentic application of rigorous content and develop 21st Century skills. These can be measured through performance assessments that are responsive to the community. The work has been informed by other states that have successfully developed and implemented an alternative vision for student and school outcomes.

Critics may point out that at the high school level there are already provisions for an Alternative Demonstration of Competency in New Mexico (ADC) and the ADC can include performance assessments.  However, that option is currently seen as a “less than,” not as significant or rigorous, since it is only available only if student have not passed the PARRC or SBA after three attempts.  That argument fails to acknowledge the negative impact the focus on testing has had on our students. As Yong Zhao pointed out in the Washington Post recently, “There is abundant evidence to show that actions to improve scores on standardized tests can damage the development of other important skills such as non-cognitive skills, creativity, and entrepreneurship.”  We need to advocate for an assessment system that asks MORE from our schools and students than demonstrating discreet skills on a high stakes test.

I want our children of New Mexico to be able to do more than take and pass a test. I want them to be critical thinkers. I want them to be able to use creative thinking and multi-disciplinary content skills to analyze complex open-ended questions and find new solutions. I want them to work with community leaders to apply those skills in real world settings to improve our community. I want our public schools to be committed and accountable to those meaningful, community, and industry-driven outcomes. I think many others share that belief. I want to see fewer people talking about opting out and see more people coming together to opt in to doing something better.


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