By Amanda Litvinov
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Oregon educators celebrated last week as Gov. Kate Brown signed into law the Student Assessment Bill of Rights (HB 2655), which was crafted to empower students and parents in the learning and assessment process.
Oregon’s new law ensures that students and their families will know the purpose of all standardized assessments, how they will be used, how much class time the tests require, and who will have access to the results.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe that most students and parents don’t have access to that information. But in most states, that is the norm.
All too often, even educators cannot access the results of standardized tests in time to tailor instruction to fill any gaps and increase students’ mastery of the material. Another endless frustration is the amount of classroom instruction time lost to prepping for and administering tests, and the creative lessons and learning activities educators have been forced to eliminate as test demands have grown.
The amount of class time Oregon educators and students have lost to standardized testing has gone from mere hours to several days. Schools across the country require roughly twice the amount of standardized testing they did 2002.
Educators, students and parents have questioned the relevance of Oregon’s Smarter Balanced Assessment, the statewide standardized test adopted last year. Some educators have voiced concern that the test only exacerbates the equity gap it is meant to monitor, by assuming all students possess specific computer skills and asking students to write on topics they may never have encountered in their own lives.
In her role as an educator and as a mom to a 7th grader, Oregon science teacher Celeste Pellicci has seen firsthand how the state’s overreliance on standardized tests has left children stressed and upset, while providing a grossly incomplete picture of their learning. It inspired her to became a vocal advocate for the Student Assessment Bill of Rights, and she made several trips to Salem to lobby her legislators. She even provided testimony on the bill, saying:
I have seen standardized tests punish our most vulnerable students. The students who come from low income families, have learning disabilities, or are English language learners are at a grave disadvantage on these biased assessments. Due to these tests, I have seen them cry, give up, or feel defeated. The only valuable information gained from a test with a 30% passing rate is that it was inappropriate to give in the first place. An educator would never administer an assessment with this as the expected result–it would be unfair to the students.
“It feels good to be pushing for something that I think is the right thing to do; the thing that can make a difference for me and my students,” Pellicci said of HB 2655.
Since its proposal, the Student Assessment Bill of Rights has too often been oversimplified, described as merely an “opt-out bill” intended to make it easier for parents to pull their children from participating in standardized tests. The law requires districts to post clear notice of the right to opt out of assessments and explain how to do so, but the greater intent of the bill is to make the assessment process more valuable to educators and meaningful to students and their families, to the point that they will be motivated to participate rather than exercise their opt-out rights.
“As educators, we know the consequence of over-testing—put simply, it takes the love of learning out of our schools,” said physical education teacher and Oregon Education Association President Hanna Vaandering. She recognized the momentous effort by Oregon lawmakers to protect students’ rights as they relate to statewide standardized tests, but said the law is just one step on the path toward truly meaningful student assessment.
“Our ultimate goal is to work with state leaders to create a system of assessment that works for all students, parents and educators—one that accurately measures student learning and growth without creating undo anxiety and stress,” she said. “When all is said and done, we want parents and students to be all-in, not opt-out. That’s what we’re striving for, and I know we will get there soon.”
Vaandering said Gov. Brown showed courage and resolve in signing the bill, after the corporate-reform affiliated Stand for Children spoke vehemently against empowering students and their families in the assessment process.
Gov. Brown moved forward, supporting the law’s goal to hold the state and school districts accountable for administering valuable assessments and communicating to students and their families the importance of the standardized tests it requires. The bill’s provisions go into effect in the 2016-17 school year.
Meanwhile, federal legislators in Washington continue to grapple with the testing provisions in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose current incarnation is the No Child Left Behind Act.
Teacher Celeste Pellicci hopes federal lawmakers are watching what’s happened in Oregon.
“Somehow this little bill in Oregon can help add fuel to the fire to change the mandates that are coming from Washington, D.C.,” she said.