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Clearer message needed on testing

As a parent and youth advocate, I am relieved. The Oregon Department of Education no longer permits school districts to re-test students in grades 3-8 who have already met or exceeded the standard on the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS), unless districts have parent permission.

In addition, schools no longer receive a rating boost for the number of students who exceed standards. Thank you Doug Kosty and everyone who helped change policy so that instructional time will be used for more relevant activities, like learning new concepts.

For years, schools used OAKS as if it were a formative assessment instead of a summative assessment. OAKS is designed to be given near the end of the year after students study the test content. But schools started testing as early as November and retested students even after they passed.

Every year, more time was spent retesting. Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, and others argued that this practice was ineffective and disruptive to children's learning. The government listened and acted.

Along with the policy change, the Oregon Department of Education published a guide for districts, 'Best Practices in Administering OAKS.' This seven-page document describes different types of assessments and how to use multiple measures to plan instruction and make placements.

Are districts on board? The Forest Grove School District recently sent home an opt-out letter stating that the state no longer permits retesting of students who have already passed unless parents give permission. But, the district letter added, 'If we do not hear back from you within ten days, we will proceed with retesting your child as scheduled.'

The letter makes no sense. The new rule is stated, then undermined. To be fair, our district did not write the letter. The letter was based on a passive consent model letter provided by the state education department, which explained that it could be a hardship for districts to change practices midyear. Explicit consent is not required until next year. It is conscientious of state officials to consider the burden on schools, but how hard is it to say that students who have passed need not retest?

As a result, schools continue to retest students who have already met or exceeded.

How many will opt out? Most parents are not adversarial. Many trust that the district knows best. The passive consent model leverages this power dynamic and bullies parents with a message of, 'We may do this if you don't stop us.'

Some parents sign and return the opt-out forms, and discover that there is no curriculum planned for their children while the others retest. Their children would sit alone, silently, in a computer lab, 40 minutes a day, for a couple of weeks, unless parents come in to study with them.

Why not have other staff members supervise retakes while teachers present lessons? Some students might enjoy unnecessary retesting, but this does not make it a good idea.

Budget cuts have already reduced instructional time. A passive consent approach makes sense for a routine matter - but unnecessarily retesting students should not be routine. How does putting off best practices serve our students?

Charlotte Lumae is a local educator and parent of a student in the Forest Grove School District



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