Saturday, November 29, 2014

Colorado Students Refuse State Standardized Tests

The school reform movement ran into a bit of a snag earlier this month in Colorado, at least in terms of its standardized-test emphasis and test-based accountability for schools. As one of the states that adopted Common Core State Standards and aligned with the PARCC testing consortium to assess "readiness" in the areas of math and language arts, Colorado is also in the process of implementing state standardized assessments in science and social studies at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. These assessments are not related to Common Core or PARCC, but are related to Colorado Academic Standards, which cover eleven content areas. These tests, which are being called CMAS - Colorado Measures of Academic Success, gained news earlier in the year when "students performed poorly" on the new assessments. Some argued the low scores were evidence of a need for the "more rigorous" standards, while others argued against the authenticity of the scores for a variety of reasons including decreased prep time and the new style of computerized assessment from Pearson. Thus, the battle over standardized assessments for rating schools, teachers, and students has taken center stage in the Rocky Mountain state.

And, now some parents and students are pushing back.

Thousands of high school seniors refused to participate in the high school version of CMAS, which was scheduled for the fall of senior year and required two days of testing. The movement seems to have snowballed around the state, as word spread about the idea of "opting out." Several education advocacy groups have promoted the idea of parent refusal, arguing that students are "more than a test score" and that they should "choose to refuse." In the progressive town of Boulder, students not only refused to participate, but also staged a protest on one of the coldest days of the year, explaining their reasons for "opting out":

Across the state, the number of parent refusals was highly noticeable. In two of the highest performing schools in the state (and, in fact, in the nation), Fairview High School and Cherry Creek High School, hardly any students took the test, as participation was well below five percent. These numbers weren't matched at most schools, but numerous school districts saw surprisingly low compliance with the state mandated tests. The reality is that parents don't have a legal right to "opt out" of tests, but any parent has a legal right to "refuse participation" for any aspect of their children's education. Thus, parents can refuse to allow their child to read a specific book or attend a required assembly or even to be immunized. And, many students who feel like they have been over-tested for their entire school career are beginning to ask if "standardized tests should still be standard."

With the coming PARCC assessments in the spring, the issue of challenging standardized assessments in public education will continue to generate controversy.

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