Parents Should Welcome the New Common Core Tests

Ignore the left- and right-wing noise machines: the new tests being introduced to kids across the country are valuable.

03.22.15 10:45 AM ET

Right now, interest groups with ulterior motives are encouraging parents to opt out of the next generation of “smart” tests being rolled out across the country.

I’m a parent of two fourth graders who will soon be taking a smart next generation test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test. SBAC is one of the two most widely used tests aligned to the improved learning standards called the Common Core State Standards. PARCC is the other assessment millions of students will be taking.

Am I “excited” about the new tests? No, just as I wouldn’t say I get “excited” about my kids’ annual physical with their pediatrician.

Having actually taken both a Smarter Balanced fourth grade practice test and the fourth grade practice test for the PARCC assessment, I can tell you they’re in line with what my sons are learning in school and a heckuva lot better than the “bubble tests” you and I took and which my kids and millions of others took last year. On the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests, guessing and memorizing don’t work and true understanding, analyzing, and problem solving are required, so they’re aligned with what my kids need to know to be successful in college and life and will be more accurate than previous standardized tests.

Will they provide a full picture of my sons’ strengths and challenges? Of course not. No standardized test can.

Could the test results be somewhat off if my kids have a bad day? Possibly.

Can pressure from adults around tests be counterproductive? Definitely, which is why the focus in my home is 100 percent on learning and 0% on the test; “just do your best” is the response when either son has brought up the new test.

No one loves tests though, of course, life is full of them. But if tests align to what students are learning in the classroom and are smart, they’re incredibly useful.

They can help parents really know whether their children are on track in math and English language arts so parents can partner with teachers to address kids’ challenges when they’re still resolvable and before their kids can’t get into college, struggle in college, or can’t get or keep good jobs.

The tests can also help teachers know where they’re solid and where they might need to improve, and also help the next grade’s teachers know what kind of support incoming students might need.

Finally, they can help administrators know which teachers and schools are exemplary and which need extra attention and support.

Given the quality and value of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests, it pains me that some teachers’ associations are passing resolutions and/or paying for slanted TV ads encouraging parents to opt out.

Equally disappointing is the demagoguery by Tea Party groups and pundits who’ve launched their own assessment misinformation campaigns.

The fear mongering ads and overheated rhetoric don’t stem from problems with the actual new tests.

The pushback on the Left is motivated by opposition to tying student test results to teachers’ evaluations. On the Right, it’s driven by a broader anti-government ideological agenda.

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Whatever the motivation, it certainly isn’t productive, as it’s adding to parent and student anxiety, fostering parent misunderstanding, and encouraging a small percentage of parents (who are getting outsized media attention) to opt children out of tests, which isn’t in the best interest of their children, their schools, and public education as a whole.

Instead of cynically attacking the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests as over testing, which they aren’t, the focus should be on actually addressing over testing and excessive test prep head on so kids end up with fewer better tests and less test prep. How?

Through legislation like Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici’s (D-Oregon) bill requiring states to conduct audits to identify unnecessary tests and through districts auditing testing on their own, as many are doing thanks to an effective tool created by a national education group called Achieve.

Through advocating for bills that eliminate unnecessary testing, as my organization Stand for Children has done in Oregon and is doing right now in Oklahoma, and bills that strictly limit test prep time.

And, finally, through districts implementing student surveys that include questions about how much time is taken on test preparation.

Succeeding in the 21st century requires competence in reading, writing, and math as well as analyzing and problem solving. That’s true whether you’re headed for a skilled trade or a career that requires a Bachelor’s or graduate degree. And knowing annually whether students are track in these core areas is critical to their ability to achieve their dreams.

As responsible parents, we wouldn’t even consider opting our children out of their medical checkup.

Why then would we opt our children out of their academic checkup.