Brittany Wagner

The release of the scores from the 2015 MAP test a few weeks ago has brought with it new discussion about standardized testing. Prior to the spring testing period, groups throughout the state and nation provided parents with information about how to “opt out” of Common Core tests. Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, for example, supplied this form.

There are currently no figures available for how many Missouri students opted out, but the Wall Street Journal reported that 20 percent of students opted out of New York state tests this year.

A recently released survey showed that despite lobbying from an eclectic group of advocacy organizations (including Tea Party Republicans, Black Lives Matter activists, and teachers’ unions), 59 percent of Americans are opposed to parents deciding whether or not their child takes a standardized test. At the same time, the 2015 Education Next poll indicated that a large number of Americans do not believe state governments do a very good job of measuring what students learn in math and reading.

So while Americans may want to know how students are doing at the state and national level, state governments may want to rethink how they hold schools accountable.

NPR Education highlighted four alternatives to standardized testing that were featured in Anya Kamenetz’s book, Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing, but You Don’t Have to Be, as follows:

(1)   Sample. Instead of every student taking a test, only a small, representative group does. This alternative wouldn’t require changing anything about the testing process or the actual test itself, but it would give many kids a break from testing year after year.

(2)   Stealth assessment. Students are tested throughout the year using low-stakes evaluations such as quizzes. The data shows which skills students have mastered at a particular moment as opposed to measuring all students in all skills at the same point in the year.

(3)   Multiple measures. This is just what it sounds like. School districts are evaluated using graduation rates, discipline, demographic information, teacher created assessments, and post-graduation outcomes. 

(4)   Social and emotional skills surveys. Studies show that students can be evaluated using nonacademic measures. Some districts are using measures like hope, for example, as a way to evaluate their students’ high school and college potential. In 2014, 64 percent of Rockwood students reported feeling hopeful.

(5)   Inspections. This type of policy places an emphasis on student assessments, as well as presentations, performances, and reports. In the United Kingdom, for example, inspectors observe lessons, evaluate work, and interview students and staff members.

What should Missouri’s public school accountability system look like? Is it really necessary to test all students every year? Are there better measures than just reading and math proficiency? These are tough questions, but taking a long look at alternatives to standardized testing might provide answers.

About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.