Statewide testing ensures accountability, transparency for parents

Note: This is the first contribution to our series of guest posts on testing and choice.

by Jacqueline Cooper

testing and choiceWe can’t help our children, especially Black children from low-income and working-class families, if we don’t know how well schools are serving them. This is especially true when it comes to expanding the high-quality options our children need to gain equity and access to great teaching and learning. This is why the Black Alliance for Educational Options and others in the education reform movement are so committed to ensuring all schools are held accountable through annual statewide tests and other measures.

But there are some allies in the movement who are concerned that parental choice programs and public charter schools may be subjected to excessive accountability standards. They contend that data from tests don’t provide information on the benefits that charters and private schools bring to the lives of children outside of academic achievement. They also argue that requiring private schools to conduct annual statewide testing as a condition for participating in voucher or opportunity scholarship programs restricts the number of schools children can attend.

Those concerns have some validity. But for the most part, they don’t have merit.

Researchers such as Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard University, through their research on the impact of teachers using student test score growth data, have demonstrated the strong correlation between achievement on tests and later economic outcomes. If we as parent choice activists don’t believe testing is valid, then why did we just celebrate charter school exam scores in Arizona or the steady progress of all students in Washington, DC on this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress?

As for concerns about subjecting private schools (along with public charter schools) to onerous accountability? The fact that private schools in Indiana are participating in that state’s accreditation system – including using statewide tests – without fear of accountability shows that this is not nearly the barrier that our allies think it is. It’s important to remember that we must continue proving the value of expanding parental choice to the taxpayers who help fund opportunity scholarship programs and all public schools in general.

We remember all too well that until the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act 13 years ago, the educational needs of low-income and working-class Black children and their peers from other underserved communities were ignored with impunity. Thanks to No Child and to the annual statewide testing required under the law, we can quantify how well or poorly schools are serving our children. More importantly, thanks to the accountability measures contained in the law, parental choice activists have the data they need to fight for expanding educational options.

Sixty percent of parents in several states responding to BAEO’s poll on parental choice and equity said testing and accountability is necessary. Thanks to statewide testing, parents now have reliable data they can use to choose high-quality educational options that best serve the needs of their children. Parents need both the power to choose and the ability to choose greater quality. Providing them with immediate and objective data, both on the performance of schools and their impact on their children, is essential to empowering them.

Finally, as parental choice activists, we must be as concerned about addressing issues of equity in traditional public schools that still serve the majority of our low-income and working-class Black children as we are about expanding parental choice. With just 18 percent of Black fourth graders and 16 percent of Black eighth grader reading at proficient and advanced levels on this year’s NAEP, we must make sure all schools are providing a great education to every child.

So the push for great schools doesn’t just end with educational opportunities. Without annual testing and other accountability measures, we can’t expand choice for parents or increase equity for low-income or working-class Black families. Annual statewide testing is an important way to do it.

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BY Special to NextSteps


Matthew Ladner

Ms. Cooper-

I’m a school choice guy who has been celebrating NAEP score gains in both AZ and DC. It’s kind of a small (solitary?) club so I’ll speak on behalf of my club to say that I’m not against standardized testing in school choice programs, but my club is against state testing in choice programs.

I live in Arizona, and I tell people out here that if what you want is the state’s standards and the AZ Merit test then that’s great because we have thousands of options for you to choose between in district and charter schools. If you’d like something different than that, we are working to make you eligible for private choice options.

Arizona state officials are currently in the process of revising the academic standards for public schools. I personally know some of the people involved, and they are very good people. My confidence in them however does not lead me to believe that they ought to be determining what every child in the state should be learning in various academic subjects with no one having an option for something different unless they would like to home school.

National norm tests have a much lighter impact on curriculum decisions, are easily understood, and have a greater level of national comparability than the (still) hodge-podge system of state tests. I would also note that Washington D.C. used the Stanford 9 as their previous “state test” and demonstrated some of the largest recorded gains in the history of the NAEP exam while so doing.

Finally we see 70% of private schools choosing not to participate in voucher programs in Louisiana, and we have a good evidence on why it is happening in the form of a detailed survey of private school leaders from the American Enterprise Institute:

In short I think our friends in Florida have hit a sweet spot on this subject. I see no advantage to requiring state criterion tests for private choice programs and very obvious costs in the form of fewer private school seats and thus under Florida’s system of private choice opportunities for disadvantaged children.

Ms. Cooper,

As a supporter of accountability and school choice, I was delighted to read this article. You have outlined my concerns as an educator and parent. Testing is not something to fear, it is a tool to ensure that students are taught, standards are met, and achievement gaps are shrinking.

Thank you!

Ms. Cooper:

I am a fan of your organization and greatly appreciate your support for school choice. Last year, I penned an op-ed about how Florida leaders ought to address the question raised in your column. My piece argues that we ought to expect private schools today to pass the same “test” that the late, great African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune passed with flying colors a century ago.

Here’s a link to my piece, which I would urge you to consider:

Warm regards,

William Mattox
JMI Center for Educational Options

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