By Kimberley Namkoong
For parents on both sides of the opt in/opt out question, New York’s education system is at a crossroads: Do we work to strengthen New York’s higher standards and annual tests, or continue a standoff?
This year’s increase in test scores seems to show that the higher standards put in place under Common Core are – albeit slowly – working. Students and parents have a much clearer understanding of what needs to be learned at each step. Teachers are getting the resources and support they need to help students achieve those goals. And the assessments show everyone what has and has not been understood – creating a positive feedback loop that helps guide lesson planning and close gaps in understanding.
Not only that, but teachers and educators can see how their students are performing compared to students across the state – giving them a tool to get in front of challenges and ensure their children are on the right track. Of course, this only works when students take the assessments. This year, more than 900,000 students did just that. But while the number of students who opted out of tests was down across many communities this year and stalled out across the state, still about one in five opted out. In many cases, it is the same parents in the same communities who are opting the same students out each year.
I am committed to finding common-sense solutions to real problems. We have to recognize that the state reacted to criticism and made real improvements. There was a top-to-bottom review of each assessment question by 22 grade-level teachers. The tests were shortened, and a series of redundant questions from both the math and English tests were removed. Time restrictions were taken off the tests. And leaders stepped up and made sure teachers had additional professional development resources.
As a parent, what are the takeaways from this experience? Is it to continue to criticize and create roadblocks by promoting opt outs, or take another path?
Crossroads are moments of opportunity and of choice. For the vast majority of parents, the challenges with the implementation of higher standards and assessments have largely been met, and they see the opportunity for these annual assessments to provide important information. For parents who continue to opt their children out of tests, this crossroads is a moment to choose: Either continue working to end higher standards and aligned assessments and engage in the same argument every year, or work together with other stakeholders to keep making these assessments better.
My hope is they choose the latter.
Kimberley Namkoong is a mother of three, co-president of Parents for Excellence-Bethlehem and a member of the High Achievement New York coalition.