Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



The Dec. 11 issue of the Lake Oswego School District’s newsletter included “background information on the Smarter Balanced state assessments, which students took last spring for the first time.” But rather than the “information” promised, parents and community members found a hard sell of the assessments.

This sales pitch left out important concerns that many teachers, parents and community members share about the tests.

Indeed, it was just these concerns that led to the drafting and passage of House Bill 2655 this year, which requires school districts in Oregon to provide information to parents about the tests and their right to opt out.

Based on the district’s own estimate, students in Lake Oswego can expect a minimum of 80 hours of out-of-classroom assessments by the time they are in the 12th grade.

These tests are part of a dangerous trend in education, where millions of taxpayer dollars are directed to testing companies and their subcontractors; some of these funds pay for the scoring of the non-multiple choice parts of the test.

This important task is being done for hourly pay by workers of dubious qualifications, raising serious questions about the validity of student scores and undermining the status of teachers as the best-equipped people to evaluate student work.

The district lauds Smarter Balanced for questions that “allow students to construct their own answers, better demonstrating their communication, analytical and problem-solving skills.” But these beyond-multiple-choice forms of assessment are everyday features in the classrooms, labs, auditoriums, studios and choir rooms of Lake Oswego schools.

While the district argues that Smarter Balanced provides “important and valid information that benefits students by helping teachers improve individual pathways and target instruction to the needs of students who aren’t on track, as well as those who are ready for more advanced work,” teachers already possess “important and valid” information about our students. We know their strengths. We know their weaknesses. And since we are humans, we can deal in nuance, evaluating complex learners more precisely and effectively than any standardized test.

According to the district, Smarter Balanced tests “ensure each and every child is on track to reach goals for college and career readiness.”

But nowhere have I seen evidence that Smarter Balanced has been held to scientific scrutiny, say a longitudinal study demonstrating that students who do well on the test do better in college and career.

The district suggests that “familiarity with the Smarter Balanced format from a young age will be advantageous for (those) college entry exams.” Here, the test’s value is reduced to practice for other tests. But students already receive preparation for exams like the PSAT, SAT and ACT through the delivery of challenging, appropriate, interesting, relevant and meaningful curriculum by the teachers of Lake Oswego schools.

The district notes that when the “assessments were introduced last year, there was concern that a more challenging test would be too difficult and stressful for students.

This did not prove to be the case, as students across the district performed above expectations and well above state averages.”

Ultimately, whether Smarter Balanced is stressful, and whether our students perform well, should not dictate whether we invest into it our precious time and resources. We should ask instead whether it provides a valuable experience for our students and whether it provides important information to teachers, students, administrators and parents.

From my vantage point, it does not.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca is a resident of Portland. She has been a social studies teacher at Lake Oswego High School for 15 years.

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