In Ohio we have landed in the lull between rounds of PARCC standardized tests. As of March 19, 2015, almost 1,000,000 PARCC performance-based tests had been given in math and ELA; over 500,000 similar AIR tests had been administered in science and social studies. Later this month we will begin round 2, the End-of-Course tests. Much has been written about why parents have decided or should decide to opt their students out of the tests. To the surprise of almost everyone we know - family, friends, colleagues, my students - we decided instead to opt our children in.
My children, ages 11 and 9, attend an independent school. It's the ultimate in local control, one of the main refrains of opponents of these assessments and the Common Core State Standards, because the learning experiences are dictated by a specific educational pedagogy. The focus of the school is truly on learning; assessment is ongoing and never a single data point. That's assessment, not assessments because tests don't bookend units of instruction the way they do in many traditional schools. There aren't grades; a report card is a biannual narrative report. In many ways, the school is a modern-day educational reformers dream come true.
I don't know if it's the teacher in me or the scientist in me, but I do crave a little more data than I see in their educational experience. I can't always put my finger right on what they know and are able to do. When grades are absent and there isn't a steady stream of work that comes home, what's left, for me, is a semi-constant wondering about whether or not these educational years are proceeding the way they should. Plus, I believe in the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the movement to raise the achievement levels of all U.S. students. Though critics of the CCSS and the PARCC assessments rail against any federal standards, the fact that these standards were written by a multi-state coalition strengthens my belief that they will move us all toward better educational outcomes. I know that sounds naive. I know that strength in numbers can quickly devolve into crazy mob mentality. Yet comparing these standards and assessments to their predecessors in Ohio, they are better on both counts.
Opting in wasn't easy. For one child, it meant scheduling many evening appointments so that a professional could administer the tests using paper and pencil. For the other, it meant contacting our local school district and arranging for our child to join a class for a few hours on a couple of days to take the tests on a chromebook. [An aside: Though this district initially found my request to be unusual, the principal, teacher, and kids at this school made those days a great experience!] With little standardized testing experience, I am not sure our kids really knew what to make of our decision to opt in. We did some practice in the days leading up to the tests and they both expressed frustration at how challenging the questions could be. Still, after they finished the tests, they seemed pretty neutral about it. They weren't scarred for life; they weren't begging for more.
Now we wait. We wait for round 2 later this month. We wait for the results of both rounds. We wait to see if opting in was better than sitting out.