Parents, Don’t ‘Opt Out’ of Transparency in Our Schools

Parents, teachers, and the larger community in Colorado are frustrated with the amount of testing in our schools. Unfortunately, to demonstrate this concern, some parents are threatening to pull students out of the statewide PARCC test. This dissenting voice should be heard, but the tactic of opting-out doesn’t solve the problem of over-testing. Instead, it reduces transparency. I am a parent of two children, who were students at what I thought were high performing public schools. However, after my oldest graduated, I was shocked to learn that she didn’t have many of the skills needed to succeed in college. Since then, I also realized my son is behind in high school. How could a school be labeled as an A+ school yet still have 40 percent of its students needing some sort of remedial education? That doesn’t sound like an A+ to me. Past assessments failed to accurately measure the college readiness of my children, and in turn led me to be a misinformed parent. PARCC is a positive solution to this very real problem. Unlike other assessments, PARCC goes beyond testing a student’s memory. Instead it assesses skills like problem-solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. By opting out of the PARCC test, parents are sacrificing their right to know if their child is mastering the skills they need to be on track for graduation. Without that information, parents don’t know where their child stands. Opting out also removes a parent’s ability to accurately assess how their neighborhood school is doing compared to other schools in their district and across the state. Without the comparison, parents are giving up the transparency they need to make an educated school choice decision and to select the school that is best able to deliver on the promise of educating their kids for college and career. This is incredibly important, because like my kids, not all students are graduating college ready, and the statewide test is a powerful tool that shines light on knowledge gaps. When a student isn’t on track on the PARCC test, it is highly likely they will need remediation in college. Colorado currently sends nearly half of its graduates to college only to find they have to re-take the same basic math classes that they should have mastered in high school. The same goes for language arts classes; more than 30 percent of students need remedial coursework in English when they get to college. Most of the costs for those classes come out of the pockets of either the students or their parents, costing a total of $37.5 million annually. The transparency provided by the annual test can help flag if a student needs to work on those skills before they get to college. It can also flag if there is a school that is making improvements—and celebrate that. And it enables the state to know if they need to intervene when schools need improvement. This can’t be done without a statewide assessment taken by all students. The PARCC test allows the state to work for parents, to act as a watchdog, and make sure that all kids have access to a high quality public education. And it isn’t the culprit when it comes to over-testing. Most testing, according to a statewide survey released earlier this year, is required by the school itself or by the local district. The PARCC test is a very small piece of it—less than 2 percent of students’ time is used on statewide testing. The result is that all taxpayers get a high return on their investment when it comes to the transparency and accountability from those scores. So, for parents who are angry about over-testing: don’t opt-out of PARCC. Instead, opt-in to the transparency and accountability that it provides while working together with teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards in the community to find a better balance of school and district tests. We will fix this problem, but opting out simply is not the solution.
Denver resident Pamela Norton is the founder and president of Activate, mother of two, and has many friends with children across the Colorado school system.

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