There's a new movement occurring in schools across the US, "opting out" of annual assessments in local schools.
As the Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and a Christian parent of two girls, I spend a great deal of time encouraging parents to "opt in" all year long. I invite parents to get involved, to support teachers, volunteer in classrooms, and to get to know school administrators so they can voice concerns in person.
So my concern was evoked this spring as well-meaning organizations began urging parents to "opt out" during annual assessments in local schools. As background, every state plans its own annual testing window, usually in the spring, to shed light on the progress students have made since the previous school year. As parents ask me about opting out of assessments, I ask them to consider the implications of such a choice.
What would opting out actually accomplish for students? Will children's educational experiences improve as a result? How can we improve student achievement if we don't assess areas of strengths or identify areas needing additional support? And especially for students in low-income areas in which children already have to overcome numerous challenges, does opting out only serve as another hindrance by withholding critical feedback needed for future achievement?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has shared his thoughts on opting in for students: "If we believe the truth sets us free, then we must shine a light on the very real gaps in student achievement in the U.S. Opting out of annual student assessments only buries the truth about education inequity. Opting out turns a blind eye to minority and poor students who are not receiving the same education opportunities as wealthier peers in other neighborhoods. We can be the light for a generation by tirelessly seeking the truth about student achievement. I urge all parents to opt in for biblical justice."
Rather than fearing annual tests, I hope parents will opt in for accountability and truth in our public schools. Since we believe the truth sets us free, then we must stand unafraid to measure what is true about educational outcomes.
As annual testing rolls around in your state, remember that annual assessments are just one measure. In combination with report cards, teacher feedback and classroom work, you can create a more complete picture of students' progress. If you have concerns with how teacher assessments are connected to students' tests scores, the power for change lies with your state legislators and I urge you to advocate accordingly. But let's not equate the assessments themselves with how each state uses the information, those are two separate issues.
After spending time praying over this issue of opting out versus opting in, I began to see that annual assessments can be an opportunity for celebration, remediation and discipleship.
An Opportunity for Celebration:
If your child excels in a subject area on his/her annual assessment, celebrate that accomplishment! Remind them how God has created them with many gifts, including their minds, and that they have a unique opportunity to love the Lord with their whole heart, soul, and mind.
An Opportunity for Remediation:
If your child didn't meet the standards for a particular subject area, it shows teachers and parents where extra support is needed. Rather than moving forward with gaps in their learning, remediation can be provided to help the student succeed in that subject area. The truth about learning gaps sets students free to make changes for real success. We cannot afford to have one more year of social promotion and ignored educational gaps.
An Opportunity for Discipleship:
Annual assessments are designed to measure progress in a particular subject area, not to measure a child's worth. Our children's identities are founded in Christ — not in the results of any test. If your child feels anxiety over testing situations, you can walk them through understanding that the Lord, not tests, define worth and that when we see tests for what they are, a mechanism to provide valuable feedback on strengths and gaps, then we can release the fear.
I personally struggled as a young student with believing my value came from test results and am profoundly grateful my parents took the time to disciple me to a deeper understanding that tests only provide information and our worth comes from Christ.
Assessments shed light on both strengths and gaps within our schools. If your local school system needs improvement, large or small, you can become a change agent without walking away from valuable feedback.
As parents choose to opt-in, all students, especially poor and minority students, benefit from the feedback provided to parents, teachers, and administrators. Let's opt-in by embracing valuable feedback, thus equipping our students to reach their academic best, and ultimately supporting them to love the Lord with the entirety of their minds.
Dr. Andrea Ramirez is the Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition – NHCLC. She and her husband live in Austin, Texas, where they are raising two daughters