Opting In

Opting Out of standardized tests is a hot issue in many communities, but thankfully not yet in UCFSD.  In recent posts I have covered the arguments made by Opt Out proponents, and what I see as the valid points Opt Out makes.

In this post, I make the case for keeping standardized tests, and why parents and teachers should “Opt In”.

I Admit It

Those who know me well know that I am a data guy.  I like pouring through numbers to find trends and correlations, and turning data into useful information. If you have reading this blog for the past year you have noticed I like charts and data.

It started early in life.  As I teenager I remember coming home from school and diving right into the Boston Globe sports section every day.  The target of my attention was the previous day’s box scores, the updated team stats and the new league leaders.  For me the stats were as interesting as watching the game itself.

I love dataLater in college I loved the way econ and statistics took complex systems and represented them through equations and charts.

My job includes reporting on the effectiveness of our a Fortune 100 company’s global operations and information technology group.  Each month we pour over hundreds of metrics to see where our performance needs to improve.

All of these experiences have made me appreciate the value of relevant, timely, and high-quality data – especially data that can provide an organization with insight to improve their service and performance.

Data in Schools

School systems produce a tremendous amount of data, but very little of it is captured let alone analyzed.    To those of us who come from the corporate world, the lack of attention to data is striking.   School districts do not place a high priority on developing operational metrics, and few place much of an emphasis on data collection.

Standardized testing, however, is the lone exception.  Every year 3rd-8th graders in every school in Pennsylvania take the PSSAs.  This test has three core assessments:  reading, writing, and math, each of which has 3 hours (or less) of testing time.  And this assessment yields incredibly useful data.

From the data, we derive  valuable insight into how our schools are performing on the dimensions of academic achievement and academic growth.  This in turn allows superintendents and principles to adjust curriculum and programs.  It allows teachers to assess the effectiveness of their classroom pedagogy.  And it allows parents, tax payers, and school board members to assess the effectiveness of the schools in their community.

Why would we want to take this data away, when it helps our schools improve the education that is offered?

So it worries me the “opt out” movement wants to erase, or at least degrade, one of the few truly useful data sets in American education.

What makes the PSSAs so important?

  • PSSAs measure not just academic achievement, but yearly growth – the least biased and most useful measure of school performance.
  • Results are comparable across all PA schools (including Charters).
  • The exams themselves are developed to a high standard –they are normed and statistically valid test instruments, administered under controlled conditions.
  • There are no other tests given in our schools that provide high-quality, school-level, benchmark measures of student achievement and growth.

I will go deeper into these reasons in my next ‘Opt In’ post.

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