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200 say they won't take Smarter Balanced tests; district fears repercussions from low participation

BECKHistory is repeating itself this spring in the Lake Oswego School District, where students at one high school are opting out of Smarter Balanced standardized tests at a rate that far exceeds any other school in the district.

Nearly two-thirds of the junior class at Lake Oswego High School has opted out of the tests — 199 from both the English/language arts (ELA) and math tests and one from just the math exam — according to Nancy Duin, the school district’s director of communications. There were 312 juniors at LOHS as of April 1, according to the latest school district enrollment report.

That compares to eight students who opted out at Lakeridge High, where five of the school’s 276 juniors chose not to take both sets of tests and three opted out of just the ELA exams.

The high number of opt-outs puts the district in jeopardy of failing to meet a federally required participation rate. And that could end up costing the district clout, money — or both.

The U.S. Department of Education can withhold federal funding from states that don’t meet its 95-percent participation requirement. In addition, a state may choose to sanction individual school districts in ways that include withholding funds or lowering ratings that some parents use to decide where to live and which schools their children will attend.

Last year, the federal government waived the requirements because the tests were new. But this year, school districts that are not in compliance may be penalized under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was recently passed by Congress.

LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck said last week that a low participation rate also could affect how LOHS is viewed by U.S. News & World Report. Just this month, both Lakeridge and LOHS were ranked as Silver Medal schools, considered among the best in the nation.

“Given the significant number of students who opted out of testing at Lake Oswego High School last year and this year, we can anticipate that next year’s rankings from U.S. News & World Report will look different,” Beck told The Review. “This doesn’t mean that the education students are receiving is any less substantial, but the community should be prepared for that consequence.”

Beck has previously said that she is a proponent of Smarter Balanced testing because the resulting data can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses in students’ education.

Differing views

Last school year, a group of students formed the Lake Oswego High School Student Union and organized a campaign that urged their peers to forgo taking the Smarter Balanced tests. Eventually, more than 200 LOHS students did opt out, as well as a handful of students at each of the LOSD’s nine other schools.

The Student Union, which is not listed as an official club on the LOHS website, has not been as visible this year; there have been no posts on its Twitter account since December 2015, although it made regular use of social media last school year. But an LOHS student told The Review that some students conducted an under-the-radar campaign that was purposefully hidden from school administrators, who have conducted an educational outreach effort of their own in recent months to encourage students to take the tests.

Yet in the end, the results were the same, with two-thirds of LOHS juniors deciding to opt out. Last year, LOHS had one of the highest opt-out rates in Oregon; rates for this year were not available as of press time.

In response, LOHS Principal Cindy Schubert delayed the tests, which were originally scheduled for earlier this spring, to this week for ELA and to May 16-19 for math in order to talk further with parents.

SCHUBERT“Prior to testing, we realized we needed to provide additional information to students and parents,” Schubert said in an email to families, “as it is important for everyone to understand the role testing plays, especially in light of new opt-out laws.”

The Smarter Balanced tests officially debuted last year in Oregon for grades 3-8 and 11, replacing the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) in math and English. The tests are not pass/fail, but are designed to gauge student achievement and progress.

The Smarter Balanced tests are widely regarded as more rigorous than OAKS. They “go beyond multiple choice” to require students to demonstrate analytical and problem-solving skills, district documents state. Science standards are still tested in the OAKS format, but eventually they will also transition to Smarter Balanced.

Smarter Balanced tests align with Common Core State Standards. The district’s teachers have been designing curriculum to adhere to those standards since at least 2010, when the Oregon State Board of Education adopted Common Core.

The idea behind the new tests was to create a way to measure progress across states, which previously used a variety of standardized testing formats. As of March 28, 14 states were administering Smarter Balanced and seven were using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), according to Education Week, a product of the Maryland-based nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education.

Since last year, several states have dropped out of both federally funded assessments — four from Smarter Balanced and three from PARCC — in response to criticism that the tests are too intense for students. That opinion also has been shared in the Lake Oswego School District.

“When the Smarter Balanced assessments were introduced last year, there was concern that a more challenging test would be too difficult and stressful for students,” according to a statement released by the school district to parents. “This did not prove to be the case, as students across the district performed above expectations and well above state averages.”

LOHS did exceed the state’s expectations, despite its 29.6-percent participation rate. Results from last year for LOHS show that 70 percent of students who took the test met state standards in ELA; 48 percent did so in math. Crystal Greene, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education, had said previously that only 30-40 percent of students were expected to meet the testing standards statewide.

“When all students in a grade level, program or school take the assessment, we have better visibility to common areas of strength and weakness,” the district’s letter to parents said. “This helps us focus time and resources on best instructional practices at all schools for all students.”

Measuring progress

ZHANGThat argument doesn’t seem to have swayed LOHS students, though. Student Union members last year renounced standardized testing in general as a poor measurement of student success and shared the feeling that students already have too many other standardized tests to take with the SAT, ACT and AP exams. Some also said the tests were not relevant to them.

That sentiment was the same this year for several students who spoke to The Review, including LOHS juniors Emily Zinsmeister and Serena Zhang.

Zhang said she opted out because she doesn’t believe the Smarter Balanced tests can accurately measure her progress since she previously took OAKS tests, which are different.

“I also don’t agree with having a huge standardized test to judge students,” said Zhang, who is a member of The Review's Student Writers Advisory Group.

Jessica Seropian was actually the catalyst for the movement this year. Feeling the option to opt-out had not been sufficiently publicized, Seropian said she felt it was urgent to spread the word.

"I figured that others would benefit from knowing all of the information that I’d just uncovered," she said.

Zinsmeister also opted out. She said last year’s juniors talked to this year’s students, and it had an impact.

“I’m already going to be taking the SAT twice this year,” she said, “and (Smarter Balanced is) just another standardized test I don’t think I need to sit down and take when I’m already going to be taking another four-hour test that meets the same requirements.”

ZINSMEISTERTo graduate from high school, students must complete math and writing requirements. Students previously could use their SAT writing scores toward that requirement, but SAT officials have eliminated the essay from their test. Students can pay $43 to take the SAT without the essay or $54.50 to take it with the essay. Smarter Balanced offers another way to meet the graduation requirement.

In addition to the 200 Lakers and eight Pacers, 47 students at other LOSD schools decided not to take standardized tests this spring. At Lake Oswego Junior High, 24 of the school’s 909 students opted out. Elsewhere:

• At Westridge Elementary, seven of 262 students in grades 3-5 opted out;

• At Lakeridge Junior High, five of 787 students opted out;

• At River Grove Elementary, four of 231 students in grades 3-5 opted out;

• At Forest Hills Elementary; three of 259 students in grades 3-5 opted out;

• At Lake Grove Elementary, two of 208 students in grades 3-5 opted out;

• At Oak Creek Elementary, one of 305 students in grades 3-5 opted out; and

• At Hallinan Elementary, one of 239 students in grades 3-5 opted out.

MUSICKStudents previously had to cite religious reasons or a disability to opt out of state standardized testing, but the Oregon Legislature passed a law in 2015 that allows students to opt out without giving a reason. Some of the federal rules also are different, because Congress last year adopted the ESSA; designed to provide equal opportunity for all students, it replaces No Child Left Behind.

“Oregon and many other states are creating systems to insure students take the tests to meet the new guidelines within the legislation,” said Michael Musick, the district’s executive director of school management. “Without these guidelines in place for this year, we are unsure what the repercussions will be at this time. Nevertheless, we believe (Smarter Balanced) provides us with the most comprehensive suite of assessment evidence to meet our college readiness expectations and graduation essential skills.”

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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