Finding the right balance for our children | AspenTimes.com

Finding the right balance for our children

Dr. Diana Sirko
Superintendent, Roaring Fork School District

Diana Sirko

One can hardly pick up any newspaper or magazine these days without seeing examples of the growing frustration that parents have about the standardized tests mandated by states as part of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The guest commentary from Stacey Craft, which ran Nov. 16 ("Children deserve better," The Aspen Times), was certainly an example of this frustration. The latest controversy started this month with the testing of high school seniors in science and social studies for the first time in Colorado history.

While the amount of testing is sometimes overstated, it certainly is something we want to review on an ongoing basis. For instance, in Craft's column, she states that students lose 72 days to testing. In our calculations, including both state and district tests, we document that there is less than 1 percent of instructional time used for testing in a school year at the kindergarten through second-grade level and as much as 3 percent of instructional time, or about 37 hours, of testing in more heavily impacted grades, such as the eighth grade where students take language arts, mathematics and science tests. We are doing all we can to reduce any district required exams. The district exams are given to measure student progress and help inform instructional practices.

In response to the comments regarding the Common Core, the district started the transition to the new Colorado Academic Standards at least four years ago. Craft is correct in stating that some of the standards are very aggressive. They are a direct response to concerns expressed nationally about whether students in the United States are receiving a rigorous enough education. The new Colorado Academic Standards, which contain most of the Common Core standards, should prepare our students to stack up to students across the county and around the world in our global society.

It is extremely rare for students to opt out of the ACT given to all Colorado juniors or any advanced placement exams. Colorado is one of 12 states that provide the ACT to all juniors with the hope of measuring college readiness. This free opportunity is often welcomed by students and parents because the ACT has external cost. Most colleges and universities across the country accept the ACT as a measure of a student's readiness for college. So it reminds us that we must help students see the relevance of the assessments and to take them as seriously, just as they do the ACT.

As is mentioned in Craft's column, we are required by state and federal law to give assessments. If we refused to take the tests, not only could the district face accountability sanctions but also the loss of federal funds. If parents and citizens do not believe these tests should be required, they need to contact their state and federal legislators to change the requirements. As we are a public school, we must follow the laws and rules that govern public schools.

In addition, I want to be honest and let you know that I believe there is value in knowing how our schools are doing in relation to other schools and districts as well as what areas of our instructional program may be lacking. I also know as a parent, I have always wanted to know how my children compare to what is considered proficient or advanced in a particular skill or area.

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Are we concerned that testing of seniors will continue to be a difficult sell? Most definitely. But just because we feel that there is too much testing doesn't mean that none of the testing has value. It is incumbent on us to examine each test to see if it yields the amount of value needed to offset the loss in instructional time. We want to ensure that we are preparing our students comparably across the district, state and nation.

Have we reached the tipping point on assessments? It appears that we may have, at least at some grades, but it will take all of us working together and with our legislators to find the right balance. We have been in contact with the state to express our views. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further or want to share your thoughts. In addition, as Craft put in her column, send an email to the Colorado Standards and Assessment Task Force who are studying this issue to inform further legislation at 1202taskforcefeedback@gmail.com.

Diana Sirko is the superintendent of the Roaring Fork School District.

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