GUEST OPINION: Testing reflects school performance

By: Luke Ragland
April 11, 2016 Updated: April 11, 2016 at 4:16 am
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A recent guest column, "We should reward best teachers in Colorado," by Sen. Owen Hill and Tyler Lawrence briefly touched on the importance of the website ColoradoSchool Grades.com and why millions of Coloradans - 1.3 million in fact - have used it. As a representative of Colorado School Grades, I'd like to thank Sen. Hill and Mr. Lawrence for highlighting how this tool uses student test scores to help parents make informed decisions about their child's education. With state testing happening this spring in local schools, I think that a longer explanation for parents is necessary.

Since Colorado Succeeds and 17 community partners launched the Colorado School Grades website in 2010, we've provided millions of parents across the state with valuable, easy-to-understand school performance information. This nationally acclaimed platform's letter-grade ratings are straightforward, comprehensive, and accessible.

This year, changes in Colorado's state test meant that the data we use to calculate the school grades wasn't available, and so we weren't able to update those school grades for 2015, as we explained on our website.

Fortunately, after this spring's test results come back, the Colorado Department of Education will again have two years' worth of data, allowing us to update Colorado School Grades ratings for every public school in the state. We are excited to provide parents with the information they need to make school choice decisions for their children.

But for the ratings to be accurate and representative of the state's schools, and therefore meaningful to the millions of parents who use this tool, we need to make sure students participate in the CMAS/PARCC exams this spring.

A movement to opt children out of standardized tests has gained momentum over the past couple of years, in Colorado Springs and across the nation.

Parents, as well as political advocates on the left and right, grew understandably frustrated with the increasing amount of time schools devoted to testing over the past several years.

Policymakers and state officials listened, and during the 2015 legislative session, Colorado passed legislation to dramatically reduce the number of tests and amount of time students spend on testing. In fact, Colorado scaled back testing more than almost any other state in the country.

That's not to say the amount of testing is now trivial. It isn't. But it's important to remember that we need to measure the progress our children are making, and by extension, the work schools are doing to help students reach their full potential.

Comprehensive state tests measure how students, schools, and districts are performing relative to their peers, which provides invaluable peace of mind to parents that their kids are on track and that their local school is serving their kids well.

To continuously improve, policymakers and school leaders need to be able to examine school performance information in detail, carefully considering whether our tax dollars are yielding the greatest return on investment. Are low-income students making gains comparable to their more affluent peers? Are English learners making steps toward proficiency in their native language and in English? Are our brightest kids being challenged?

There's no more reliable way to answer these questions than data from high-quality assessments. Finding just the right amount of testing is tricky, but Colorado has attempted to hit that sweet spot with this year's changes, which have been lauded by this paper's editorial board.

Our education system should provide students with the academic skills and knowledge they need to become happy, contributing members of society. Measuring their learning without overtesting them is what Colorado is trying to accomplish. And with these changes, the state has gotten it right.

So have your kids take the tests this year. The higher the percentage of students who participate in the tests, the more the resulting information will accurately reflect what is happening in our schools.

In return, we pledge to continue providing parents with letter-grade report cards on Colorado's public schools that are user-friendly, comprehensive, and accurate.

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Luke Ragland is the vice president of policy for Colorado Succeeds.

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