Take the test

The whiplash effect isn’t confined to Grand Junction’s economy. We usually trail state and national economic trends by months, if not years.

Looks like we’re following a similar trend in standardized testing. Opt-outs in District 51 remain higher than the state average, even after lawmakers at the state and federal levels scaled back testing in response to pleas for relief.

Only 78 percent of students in District 51 took both of the statewide tests that measure progress in math and English/language arts. Participation was as low as 50 percent in some middle schools and high schools, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The statewide average was 92 percent for math tests and 89 percent for English and language arts.

The low participation rates make it difficult for the district to draw meaningful conclusions about how well its programs are working.

Opponents to testing have voiced concerns to the Legislature about the costs of standardized tests, the amount of teaching and learning time that is lost to testing and the lack of timely information that the tests provide. After a legislative task force on testing, state lawmakers responded with some reforms in 2015.

Last year, Congress rewrote the federal education bill to give states more latitude on how they use assessments to measure school and teacher performance.

In other words, the message has been received. The opt-out movement worked. The testing burden has been lessened and the state will have more say in developing its own accountability system going forward.

But policy makers at both the state and federal level remain adamant that some measure of proficiency is necessary to identify underperforming schools and best practices and to prevent kids from falling through the cracks.

Matt Diers, executive director of high schools at District 51, said the low participation reflects that students and parents don’t see the value of the tests.

Interestingly, the district’s new performance-based learning system comes with a built-in measures. It paces students based on mastery of concepts. In theory, growth is measured continuously, providing quicker feedback than a standardized test. But that shouldn’t discount the secondary validation that would come from the statewide testing. Plus, testing is mandated, so opt-outs rob the school district of affirming data and prevent them from hitting participation targets that could affect funding.

We sympathize with parents who oppose testing. The best way to oppose it is to refuse to participate. But it punishes the school district for something it has no control over and it thwarts efforts to make improvements.

We’ve long supported state assessments and think the changes afoot will improve their relevance. But only if parents appreciate their importance in measuring curriculum and student progress. To get a true picture, we need all students to participate.


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