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Tensions rise over Common Core testing

Teachers, students, parents express distress over Smarter Balanced test


With students in the Oregon Trail School District deep in standardized testing, the way children are being educated has become a source of debate among parents, teachers and administrators.

At the district’s board of directors meeting on Monday, April 14, two teachers, two parents and two students spoke out against the newly implemented Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core State Standards.

This is not a new occurrence. If school board meetings are any indication, Common Core, which was implemented last school year, is an ongoing controversy.

“Kids are able to learn a lot more at a much younger age than we gave them credit for,” said District Teaching and Learning Director Debbie Johnson about the switch to stricter standards.

Oaks testing, which was the standardized assessment until this year, didn’t ask students to apply what they know, Johnson said. “Smarter Balanced will ask them to do something with it.”

Students in third through eighth and 11th grades take state tests each year.

Johnson said it is a way to prepare younger students for benchmark tests they would take in high school so there are no surprises.

“Our end result is we want graduates that go on and are successful,” Johnson said.

But not everyone feels these standards are going to get them there.

On Monday, Welches Elementary School teacher Jan Hayden Well went in front of the board to share her thoughts on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“Originally, I had planned to use these three minutes to appeal to the board to honor parent requests for opt-out and refusal of the Smarter Balanced Test for their children,” she said. “Now that the District Office has agreed to accept parent opt-out requests, I want to thank them for respecting parents’ fundamental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.”

She went on to discuss her concerns of the assessment: that it is developmentally inappropriate, not scientifically based and results are not delivered in an instructionally valuable time frame.

“They are built to maintain inequality,” Well continued, “not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.”

Tension between the board and attendees grew as Well went over her allotted three minutes for addressing the board with her passionate speech despite Board Chairman Randy Carmony’s increasingly insistent reminders.

Oregon Trail Academy teacher Emily Evans also voiced concerns for the change in testing, which she said is pretty stressful to “all of us.”

Evans said the most heartbreaking moment of her teaching career came recently when she informed a student he would not get his results until the end of the school year. The student responded with a gesture of putting a pretend gun to his head.

She did offer hope for some as she informed the room that there is a group of teachers pursuing alternative testing through the Legislature.

More information on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core State Standards is available on the Oregon Trail School District website, oregontrailschools.com under “Parents” and “Essential Skills and State Standards.”

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