Our Voice: Double testing students not necessary for high standards

High school testing requirements are once again in transition and that means this spring students will be required to double up on exams.

State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn said there is no way state law can be changed in time to lessen the testing burden on schools this year, but he is hoping that won’t be the case in 2016. During the upcoming session, he wants to convince the Legislature to eliminate the current end-of-course assessment exams as a requirement for high school graduation. They are being phased out anyway in favor of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, and continuing to administer two high-stake exams is fraught with difficulties.

His plan makes sense, as testing takes time away from the classroom where the real learning happens. Testing also is expensive, and expecting students to meet two different standards lends itself to confusion for teachers, kids and parents.

While students are in transition, Dorn said he feels it wouldn’t be fair to use the Smarter Balanced testing as a high school graduation requirement because it will be too new and the students and teachers need time to acclimate to the exam. Passing the new test will be a requirement for the class of 2019, however.

If that’s the case, then it means those students caught in this transition period will not have to pass any kind of assessment test for high school graduation. That might not go over well with some lawmakers.

Dorn, however, said that high school juniors will still have to take the Smarter Balanced tests, which are part of the new Common Core standards being set across the country. Those who fail it will have to take a remedial course their senior year and pass that class, which should qualify them for a high school diploma.

Another reason Dorn wants to do away with the end-of-course-assessment testing as a graduation requirement is it will save the state an estimated $29 million. That’s money he would rather spend on remedial help for students instead of on tests that are on their way out.

With the new Common Core standards, students will be expected to be “college-ready” and state public universities and community colleges have agreed to place students who score a 3 or higher on the Smarter Balanced Assessment test into college-level math and English courses without first requiring a placement test. This new arrangement means expectations are finally the same between high school and college officials, which has not always been the case.

Somewhere over the years politicians have equated assessment tests with educational rigor and high expectations. But the path toward the goal is what matters most. Dorn’s plan is a reasonable compromise and lawmakers should consider taking his advice.