Yesterday the House ESEA rewrite squeaked through with just enough votes to pass. Yet there was much less debate over an opt-out amendment presented by Rep. Matt Salmon, a Republican from Arizona. Surprisingly, Salmon’s amendment looks a great deal like a business item approved at the NEA convention earlier this month.
After some back and forth, the NEA Representative Assembly approved a proposal to support the opt-out movement. But the nation’s largest teachers union didn’t stop there. Another approved business item requires the NEA to highlight what affiliates are doing to inform parents of the “negative effects of testing” and their ability to opt out their children. And there’s yet another approved proposal related to opt-out that requires the union to recognize parents who decide to opt their students out of standardized assessments. If you ever questioned how the NEA feels about the opt-out movement, you now know.
These were just a few of more than 15 anti-testing proposals debated at the 2015 NEA convention. Another directs the union to campaign to end the assessments created by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, as long as they’re used for teacher evaluation and school ratings. Others have the NEA taking part in everything from lobbying state legislatures to oppose cut scores on Common Core assessments, to providing talking points on the history of standardized testing.
As Stephen Sawchuk pointed out, these NEA proposals are just that, proposals—they direct the union to do something for a year, but aren’t resolutions or longstanding declarations. However, they signal where the union is headed.
In an increasingly partisan world, it’s striking when parties on two separate sides of the aisle agree to buck the federal government and protect the interest of adults.
But annual testing is only half the story. That’s because Alexander’s bill doesn’t just offer two statewide testing options for policymakers to fight about. It also offers a separate testing option fordistricts on top of the state choices. And although education wonks are up-in-arms over the merits of door #1 vs. door #2 for states, most have, unfortunately, ignored the giant local testing loophole that is behind door #3.
Through it, districts could opt-out of statewide testing and use their own tests instead, regardless of whether Congress chooses door #1 or door #2. But the real kicker is that this loophole isn’t actually new at all. Alexander’s draft bill just makes it far easier for districts to take advantage of–and abuse–existing flexibility.
Districts would only need state approval that their local assessments meet the same federal requirements with which state tests comply. And given the increasing number of districts pushing back on state testing, door #3 would be an irresistible option for many, even as it undermines the comparability of data between schools for evaluation and accountability; states’ abilities to provide technical assistance, support, and professional development to districts; and state investments in new assessment systems aligned to college- and career-ready standards.
If you follow education news, politics, and social media, it’s clear that testing is having a moment. I was surprised it wasn’t listed alongside Taylor Swift as a nominee for Time magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year. Everyone–policymakers, unions, state leaders, local administrators, teachers, parents, you name it–seems to agree that the amount of testing and its role in America’s schools and classrooms merit reconsideration. But the momentum of this “over-testing” meme has overshadowed the fact that testing policy is complicated. And when the field talks about “over-testing,” it’s often not talking about the same kinds of tests or the same set of issues.
To help clarify and elevate our over-testing conversation (because it’s here to stay), here are four questions to ask, with considerations to weigh, when deciding whether testing is indeed out of control–and evaluating the possible options to change it. Continue reading →