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Editorial: Testing provides a key measure of education

Testing is an important element in the educational process. Without measuring progress it is impossible to know how well students are doing in any given subject or how well school districts are doing in the critical job of delivering on high-quality education.

Therefore, with New York State English language arts assessments underway for most third- through eighth-graders (math assessments will be given in May), it is important for parents to keep in mind that it does more good for their children and the educational system if students take the test.

In another age, such a plea would be unnecessary. Students took the tests administered and parents supported the decision by educators to give the tests. There was the general belief that, in the end, testing was being done for good reason.

Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Having large numbers of students opt out of testing creates educational risks for students and financial risks for their districts.

The answer should be for parents to “opt in” to the tests in the name of strengthening education in the state. Unfortunately, that has not been the path chosen by a large percentage of parents. As reported in The News, more than 200,000 students across the state refused to take standardized tests last year, responding to the opt-out movement that began in the spring of 2012.

Teachers unions were vocal proponents of the opt-out movement. They were concerned about testing at least in part because scores on standardized tests were supposed to become part of the evaluation process for teachers.

There may be some good news on that front. Karen Magee, who had urged parents to opt out of testing, has decided not to run for re-election as president of New York State United Teachers. Her support for opt-out and other policies divided the union and gave rise to two challengers for her job.

The opt-out movement gained momentum to the point that last year 21 percent of students were sitting out the tests. The peak was in West Seneca, where nearly three-quarters of students refused to take the ELA and math tests last year, the highest rate in any of the 38 districts in Erie and Niagara counties.

The state has made a number of concessions in an attempt to raise the testing rate. Chief among them was a moratorium on the use of test scores in evaluating teachers.

The State Education Department has responded to the parental pushback with a number of changes, including reducing the number of questions and giving students more time to finish. The company that had been preparing the tests was a lightning rod for critics and has been dumped. Teachers are more involved in the questions and questions are released for scrutiny after the exams.

But those efforts have not squelched the opt-out movement, with Western New York Allies for Public Education and New York State Allies for Public Education continuing to offer information on how and why to opt out. Meanwhile, “Say Yes to the Test” adds its reasons for opting in.

This push-pull cannot be good for education in New York, which means it is not good for schoolchildren. State Ed has a monumental task in ensuring that students receive top-quality education for the enormous sums of money being spent on schools. It is a job made more difficult when significant numbers of parents won’t allow their children to take standardized tests.

The solution is not to make the tests invalid; that helps no one. Efforts should be focused on making the whole testing process better, and State Ed should be ready to do that. There is no way to know where schools are falling short unless parents allow their children to take the tests. The more students take the tests, the more accurate the assessments become and the more likely we are to see improvements in education.

Parents should encourage their children to take the tests.

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