High-stakes tests: Part of education, part of life

The News TribuneApril 20, 2014 

WASL KICK-OFF

FILE - Michelle Budenski, 13, (left) and other seventh graders at Nisqually Middle School take the Math WASL test in 2005. (The Olympian file)

RON SOLIMAN

Some Washington teachers – by no means all – are sliding into automatic hostility toward state-mandated standardized tests. This won’t end well for students.

The hostility started out as a reasonable reaction against the lengthy Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which devoured days of instructional time. Then it became less about the particulars of the WASL than about “high-stakes” tests in general – exams required for high school graduation or other advancement.

Now the whole idea of statewide standardized tests is under suspicion or attack in some circles. Battling and even boycotting them has become a movement.

One of those circles was the recent representative assembly of the Washington Education Association in Spokane earlier this month.

Teachers at the assembly – by and large passionate activists – adopted a recommendation to encourage parents and students to boycott the “Smarter Balanced” assessments to be adopted next school year. These exams, which are aligned with the Common Core curriculum, are scheduled to become graduation requirements in 2019.

Here’s a cynical reading: The anti-test movement happens to be intensifying as standardized tests are increasingly being used as one measure of teacher effectiveness. It’s fairly easy to make political allies of parents inclined to blame the test when their children do poorly.

We don’t think that’s the whole story, but it’s probably no coincidence that the assembly’s motion comes on the heels of a legislative session in which WEA activists fought like leopards to prevent student test data from being used in their performance evaluations.

Well-intentioned or not, opting out of the new Common Core-aligned tests would do students no favors. Nor do efforts to end the use of high-stakes tests.

Teachers themselves have championed and helped develop the Common Core curriculum. It’s America’s first clear, nationwide set of educational expectations. Rigorous and realistic, its goals reflect the wisdom of the teaching profession.

Students shouldn’t be “protected” from the Common Care assessments, even when they’re connected to graduation. Especially since the state always provides alternative routes to a diploma.

Much of life is about tests. The driving exam, for example: Fail, and you don’t earn a license.

Want to be an electrician, lawyer, cosmetologist, plumber, home inspector, real estate broker or engineer? Want to get into any high-wage trade or profession? There’s a high-stakes exam, formal or informal, in your future.

School should be about preparing students for the adult world. That can’t be done by sheltering them from big, tough tests.

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