In each group we were having really interesting conversations around a variety of education topics and the topic of standardized testing came up (of course). In each group there was pretty much a group groan, and then a general statement of dislike of the tests (or at least the quantity and frequency of them). But what really struck me in each case was the sense of inevitability, the feeling of being powerless. In each one of those discussions the assumption was that we did not have any control over this situation, that some things were "out of our control" and we just had to deal with them. That got me wondering:
What if we said no?I'm serious. What would happen to us if we simply said no (or perhaps, "no thank you" to be a bit more polite). It reminds me of a story I heard once from Cris Tovani who was talking about some social studies teachers in her building talking about how they "had to do" such and such. She simply asked them, "Why?" They responded that the "state" mandated it. So she went and researched it and came back and told them that no, actually, the state didn't. So they then said the "district" mandated it, so she looked into that and it turns out that wasn't true. They then replied with "well, we have to cover it in our curriculum." Turns out that wasn't the case either. They just had assumed all these years that someone was telling them they had to do it. Turns out it was no one but them.
So here are my (serious) questions. What if Arapahoe High School said "no thank you" to the PARCC tests? What exactly would happen to us? Is there state funding associated with (not) taking those tests? Accreditation? Would our school board close us down? Would Secretary Duncan stop by and yell at us? What exactly would happen? I mean parents can choose to opt their students out of the tests, so what if all of our parents did - surely that's their right and they couldn't close the school down. Could they? (By the way, I truly don't know the answer to these questions, but I think someone should ask them.)
Arapahoe is a high performing school in a high performing district. We've been a John Irwin School of Excellence with the Colorado Department of Education since the award's inception, and we consistently exceed the state averages on the state-mandated CSAP/TCAP/ACT. What if we said that we'll give the PARCC tests, but only once every four years. It's not like the Common Core State Standards are going to change during those four years. (After all, next year's Kindergartners will likely still be employed in 2075, and we're implicitly saying to them that the Common Core State Standards will still be relevant to them then - so surely once every four years right now is enough.)
What if we said that would give us a baseline of data to work with (and to be held "accountable" with), with a check-in every four years, but that we didn't need to spend weeks testing all of our students each and every year? What if we said that we believe that the high quality assessments that our teachers already develop and give our students provide us with the timely, relevant, meaningful on-going data necessary to help our students learn? After all, we devote ten PLC days a year to develop those essential learnings and common assessments, either we think those are worthwhile and provide us valuable information about our students - or we don't. If we do, why would we need to take away instructional time, spend a significant amount of money, and put stress on our students and teachers each and every year simply to give the PARCC test?
Who is the someone that says we have to do this? What exactly are the consequences if we don't? If there actually are consequences that we don't like, can we propose that those consequences be modified or waived if we can demonstrate that we are already doing better, more timely, and more effective assessments, and that giving the PARCC tests each and every year is not only a waste of time, but actually decreases learning time for our students?
I wonder if we'll find out that - just like at Cris Tovani's school - it turns out it's nobody but us. I anxiously await the answers.