Should parents be able to opt kids out of state mandated assessment tests, or should the district enforce rules necessary to have the complete data to assess students on a year to year basis? That was the question facing the St. Michael-Albertville School District earlier this month as the STMA School Board heard a first reading of policy 618: Assessment of Student Achievement, in which superintendent Dr. Jim Behle and other district leaders have recommended an addition to the policy that would mandate participation in locally selected standardized tests.
Current policy allows parents to opt their children out of these locally selected exams, such as the DIBELS test for grades K-4 and the NWEA (also known as MAP) testing that students in grades 2-10 currently take one to three times per school year, depending on grade, to chart their individual growth. Behle said these exams are instrumental in helping teachers see where students are succeeding, where they need additional help and to partially to determine which students qualify for extra interventions or advanced classes.
If the school board approves the district leadership’s recommended additions to this policy, parents would be unable to opt their children out of these tests. They can, however, still opt their children out of state-mandated tests such as MCA exams and student surveys.
Behle said the number of parents, district-wide, who choose to opt their children out of the locally selected exams is small, perhaps two families who have contacted him. But he said district leadership feels that participation in assessments is helpful to educators so they can make the best decisions to support student learning, monitoring curriculum and goal setting.
“Our intent is only because we think this data is valuable,” Behle explained. “We have a curriculum, we want to monitor that curriculum. We want to monitor individual student progress.”
Behle said that the formative assessments that teachers use throughout lessons are useful, but that they would also like a standardized assessment so they can benchmark students and have a more universal score to guide them on decisions about which students may need additional support or advanced instruction.
A few parents spoke out against this proposed policy change at the meeting, saying they felt the change would infringe on parental rights. One commenter worried about the data mining that she said goes to the state through many of these tests.
“It puts a lot of third parties in control of our students’ information, and I think that parents and teachers are perfectly capable of determining if our children are doing well in school,” commenter Hollee Saville said.
Saville also brought up that she is curious how schools are sticking with mandated limits on test taking between locally selected and state-mandated exams. The limits are 11 hours per academic year for grades 7-12 and 10 hours for grades 1-6.
Behle responded that MCA exams, ACT tests and advanced-placement exams are excluded from the testing limits, and an audit last year showed the district was under the limits when looking at the length of time it takes a typical student to complete the test. In addition, Behle said, district leaders have looked for ways to decrease testing, such as eliminating fall NWEA tests and measuring student growth from one spring to the next instead. So far they have only enacted this change at the middle school level, but he said they are looking into eliminating the fall NWEA at the elementary level as well.
An audience member who is also a teacher said she worries about taking away parent choice, and questions how integral the testing really is and whether it is worth the classroom time spent.
“I have had third-graders who would spend two hours at a time on each MAP test,” she said. “That’s 12 hours a year of them putting in really hard effort, time that they could be doing project-based learning or doing inquiries, they could be dancing, doing music or other things more significant in their lives than a test.”
Board chair Doug Birk said they would be voting on the matter at the Tuesday, Jan. 19 board meeting, and encouraged parents to reach out to the board or administration with questions, feedback or concerns.