Guest column

Last week I outlined why I think Oregon's current system of public school testing is unbalanced and unfair ('The trouble with testing,' Oct. 12, 2011).

It encourages administrators to allocate a disproportionate amount of time and resources to prepare students for this one measure of academic success. Although it's important to give every child a chance to succeed and hold educators accountable for the growth of their students, a better way to measure student success would be to test a child each year and set goals for growth for that individual child.

If this sounds labor intensive, it is. But it cannot be any more labor intensive than the status quo.

The interventions in place for students not meeting the state standard are extensive, and, I think some parents of high school students would argue, excessive. Growth-based testing would ensure that every student's academic needs are being met, not just those students with the lowest test scores.

The system needs to be changed, but how do we go about enacting this change? It's not an easy solution.

Our administrators have their hands tied; district funding, reputation, and status are all tied to how well students score on state tests and is reflected in the Adequate Yearly Progress ('AYP') report card.

We can complain about the choices our administrators make, but at the end of the day, their job is to get every student to pass the OAKS test. That's the system that is in place, and they're working very hard to ensure that it happens. They're doing a good job; teachers are working hard, schools are trying innovative ways to raise test scores. The question is whether or not we as a society want this one test to be the only way we measure success for students and teachers.

It is time that we look at the bigger picture and grab the attention of the policy makers in Salem and Washington, DC. We need to tell them emphatically that the system is not working for our children and needs to be changed.

I've thought a lot about this since my son first began taking the state test three years ago. I've come to the conclusion that there is only one way to have our voices heard: withdraw our children from OAKS testing.

Parents have the right to withdraw their children from state testing.

I checked with with the local Education Service District and found that a parent simply must contact the district test coordinator. In our district, that is John O'Neill, the director of student achievement. (He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-359-2430.)

So far, I have resisted this option for two reasons. First, because my son usually scores well and I know that his score will help positively reflect the hard work of his teacher. Second, because schools get penalized when parents withdraw their children from the tests. If enough parents opt out of OAKS testing, their school will not meet AYP in the category of testing compliance.

I love my kids' schools. Their teachers work extremely hard. Despite facing so many challenges, they still create an atmosphere of warmth and caring, a sheltered place where children thrive and continue to shine. I want everyone to know what great schools my children attend, and don't want to do anything to hurt the chances of their success and status on the Adequate Yearly Progress reports.

But I have decided that this year I will opt out.

I have to look at the bigger picture and think about the future I want for my children. I want my children and their classmates, regardless of academic success, to be able to take electives in high school. I want their teachers to see them as individual students, with strengths and weaknesses and not as test scores. I want their teachers to be excited to teach and encouraged to inspire all students to grow and learn, not rewarded only when their students pass the test.

I hope what I've said encourages parents to think about the way OAKS testing affects their child's education, and that parents start having conversations with one another about state testing and the impact it's had on educational practices in the district.

If you come to the same conclusions I have and decide to withdraw your student from OAKS testing, I hope you'll tell other parents that you've done it and why.

Together our voices can be heard.

- Jennifer Norman lives in Forest Grove and has two sons in the Forest Grove School District.

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