by Brian Washington
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In some districts in East Multnomah County, Oregon, state testing begins in February and doesn’t end until June, and that doesn’t even include reading assessments that are done every six weeks and those tests that are done at the beginning of middle and end of the year to determine where students are.
That’s why educators from several local school districts—including Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Parkrose, and Reynolds—invited state lawmakers to a roundtable discussion covering several education-related topics—including how to reduce the districts’ overreliance on standardized testing and the negative impact its having on students.
“I think our lawmakers don’t really know the impact all this testing has on our students and how they can be biased against some of our neediest and underrepresented students of color,” said Alejandra Barragán, who teaches second grade in Reynolds. “I think the roundtable discussions are really eye-opening for them because it’s a one-on-one conversation about what our students go through when they have to take these tests.”
Eight state lawmakers showed up as well. Organizers split the entire group, about 75 people, including some parents and at least two high school students, into 8 roundtables. But before the discussions began, lawmakers got a chance to review some of the tests students are required to take.
Camie Kusah, an English Language Development teacher, said the lawmaker stationed at her table was a former educator.
“The lawmaker I was sitting with felt like there were better ways to show student growth besides high-stakes, standardized tests,” said Kusah.
From the student-parent perspective, what I saw was a lot of stress—stress from the student trying to do well on the test in the allotted time as well as from the scheduling of these tests.
Educators began these roundtable discussions about four years ago as a way to start a community conversation about the best approach to making sure students get a quality public education.
However, Barragán says they also allow her education colleagues to become more comfortable with advocating for students.
“One of our purposes is to get educators to not be intimidated by having these discussions with state lawmakers,” said Barragán. “Last year, it was this type of one-on-one conversation that helped shape the new state law that gave parents more information and made it easier for students to opt-out from standardized testing.”
“But that was only the first step. In the coming months, it will be up to us to scrutinize the reason behind each test and decide if there is a way to reduce the amount of tests taking place in our schools. If we do not act now, the harm to our students from overtesting will continue to rise.”