National PTA Assessment Position Statement Guidance for PTA Leaders
by Tynettia Elrod on 2/12/2016

 

 

National PTA Assessment Position Statement 

Guidance for PTA Leaders

This document provides information on the recent adoption of an assessment position statement by the National PTA Board of Directors. PTA leaders are encouraged to use this document to guide their responses to membership, partner organizations and stakeholders concerning the position statement. If you have any questions regarding the position statement, please contact Jacki Ball, director of government affairs for National PTA, at jball@pta.org. In the event media inquiries are received about the statement, please direct them to Heidi May Wilson, manager of media relations for National PTA, at hmay@pta.org. 

Rationale for Assessment Position Statement

National PTA adopted a Student Assessment and Testing position statement in 1981. It has been more than 30 years since PTA addressed the issue. Over the last few years, the use of assessments has increasingly become a prevalent topic of concern for parents, and movements to opt children out of assessments have gained some momentum. By adopting this position statement, the elected leadership of PTA has embraced an issue that is of concern to many parents, educators and students across the country. While there is not universal agreement on the issue of assessment, National PTA is in alignment with a diverse group of associations and organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, among many others. Furthermore, as implementation begins on the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) it is imperative for National PTA to provide new guidance on assessment.

Development of Assessment Position Statement

Collectively, the position statement was shaped by PTA volunteers and elected leadership representing 24 states across the country. The duly elected leadership--National PTA Board of Directors--thoroughly reviewed and approved the statement at its January 2016 meeting. The national legislation committee and PTA volunteer leadership sought to ensure the language of the position statement is representative of the mission, values and priorities of National PTA. This is why the principles articulated clearly prioritize the needs of all students, which includes high-quality instruction, continuous improvement and family-school collaboration. Numerous source materials were consulted on the subject of assessment systems and student participation in the context of the current policy environment, including federal and state statutes and proposed policies and research findings. The Board of Directors and Legislation Committee also carefully accounted for any past or ongoing activity of state PTA congresses on assessment to ensure the resulting language would provide national leadership and guidance and support all students.

What Does the Position Statement Say about Assessment Systems and Student Participation?

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity, providing parents, teachers and school leaders with valuable information about student growth and achievement and improving outcomes for all of our nation’s children. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the overemphasis on testing and the impact it has on teaching and learning. 

Many states are working to implement high-quality assessment systems that seek to provide critical information to parents, students and educators. The position statement provides numerous recommendations on how states and school districts can improve assessments and reduce the amount of required tests. The recommendations include audits of assessment systems to eliminate unnecessary tests; ensure appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high-quality assessments; allow for clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment; improve the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results; and provide adequate professional development to educators on the development, use and evaluation of assessments and the data they provide.

National PTA has a long-standing and unaltered position on the use and overreliance of high-stakes, summative assessments as they pertain to student learning and achievement. While the Student Assessment and Testing position statement (1981) was retired with the passage of the new position statement, the new position statement still includes language on National PTA’s well-established stance against the use of high-stakes testing. 

This new position statement articulates that PTA supports state assessment systems that are appropriately aligned with each state’s academic standards. Furthermore, the statement outlines that a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the knowledge and skills students need when they graduate to ensure they are ready for college and the workplace. 

National PTA believes assessments are essential to ensure all students receive a high-quality education and help guide instruction to better meet the needs of students. The association maintains that in order to provide the most accurate information to parents, educators, schools, the district and the state all students must participate in state required assessments. The information gathered from assessments helps to make sure students and schools are receiving the necessary resources and supports in order to reach their full potential.

Both the position statement and ESSA acknowledge that states can have policies that provide a mechanism for parents to opt their children out from state-mandated assessments. However, the position statement indicates that National PTA does not support these types of polices. While some state policies allow for opt-out, the association does not believe that opting out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing. A blanket, mass opt-out of state-required assessments is not supported by National PTA.

PTA has always held that it is the right of parents to decide what is best for their child. As PTA’s mission is on behalf of all children, and we continue to support parent’s rights, it would be contrary to the association’s mission to support or promote a strategy that does not consider the rights or consequences of that strategy for all children. When parents opt their children out of tests—even for legitimate concerns—they’re not only making a choice for their own children, they’re inadvertently making a choice that can affect efforts to improve schools for every child. 

National PTA has always believed that educational improvements and increased well-being for our nation’s children comes from engaged and empowered parents and families. The parent voice is critical in the discussion around educational equity, and we strongly advocate and continue to support increased inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all levels. Parents and families must be at the table when policymakers are considering policies that affect students. 

Communicating about the Assessment Position Statement with Members, Partners and other Audiences

• Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia require all students to take state tests (i.e. either do not allow or provide a mechanism to opt-students from state mandated tests) 

1. Alabama

2. Alaska

3. Arizona

4. Arkansas

5. Connecticut

6. Delaware

7. District of Columbia

8. Florida

9. Georgia

10. Hawaii

11. Illinois

12. Indiana

13. Iowa

14. Kansas

15. Kentucky

16. Maryland

17. Massachusetts

18. Michigan

19. Mississippi

20. Missouri

21. New Hampshire

22. New Jersey

23. New Mexico

24. New York

25. North Carolina

26. Ohio

27. Rhode Island

28. South Carolina

29. Texas

30. Tennessee

31. Vermont

32. Virginia

33. West Virginia

34. Wyoming

• Three states – California, Colorado and Oregon – allow opt-out of all state tests. Thirteen states have policies that allow for refusal, opt-out with restrictions or local determination. 

• Federal law (both NCLB and ESSA) requires a 95% participation rate in state assessments and schools or districts that do not meet this requirement can face sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education under the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA). 

• If only certain students are tested, it could very well mask the real performance of the nation’s public schools and have a disparate impact on minorities, students with disabilities and English language learners. Failing to include all students in the assessment system would mean that some learners would not be counted. As a result, the needs of all students would not be known and their needs would not be met. 

• By allowing students to be opted out of statewide assessments, parents lose a tool in evaluating the progress their child is making each year, teachers lose the ability to assess and correct weak spots in their instructional plans, communities lose the knowledge of whether or not their school is meeting students’ needs, and school and state leaders lose the reliable data they depend on to make critical decisions about how to better support students in the future. 

• We recognize the frustrations people feel about over-testing and what’s happening in schools, and absolutely believe that parents need more and better ways to be heard in decisions. We do not think that opting out is an effective strategy to address those frustrations and believe that it comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity. 

• A 2015 poll by Education Next found that 67% of respondents support testing students yearly in reading and math, whereas 21% oppose such testing. Furthermore, the poll found that 52% of parents oppose the opt-out concept, while just 32% support it. Among teachers, 57% oppose and 32% support the opt-out movement. 

• An August 2014 poll by Education Post found that 66% of parents support standardized testing, with even higher percentages of support among Latino and African American parents at 79% and 75%, respectively. 

• While the annual PDK/Gallup Poll (August 2015) revealed that 67% of public school parents say there is too much emphasis on standardized testing, 59% of them stated they would not opt-out their own child from one or more standardized exams. 

• Figures are scant on the extent of parental and student opt-out nationwide, however Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools: An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis found the median of opt-outs was less than one percent in most urban school districts. Of the districts surveyed, most had opt-out rates from 1% to under 2%. The report did identify several districts with higher rates – Rochester, New York (20%); Buffalo, New York (15%); Albuquerque, New Mexico (6%); and Portland, Oregon (3%). 

• Full participation in assessments provides complete data sets for educators, school leaders, districts and states. If all students don’t participate in assessments, we lose valuable data that identifies where there are disparities in opportunities and outcomes for all students. Furthermore, non-participation can affect the achievement results for the school and misrepresent achievement gaps among various student populations. Non-participation in assessments can disproportionally affect the students who are in greatest need of additional academic and non-academic supports and further exacerbate resource equities that currently exist. 

• We must include all children. This principle applies in the Census and elsewhere, you need to be counted – and visible – in order to be heard. Allowing schools to not be accountable for all children (e.g. children with disabilities or English learners) by opting them out of assessments, or encouraging them to not participate means that their needs are less likely to be met. 

• According to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), at least 39 states already have taken steps to work with educators at the state and local levels to address over testing by reviewing all tests administered to students and making sure they are of high quality and meaningful. The conversation around the amount and types of assessments students take is an important conversation and parents must be at the table as these discussions are occurring at the state and local levels. However, completely opting out of tests is not the solution to the challenges communities face. 

• Results from high-quality assessment give teachers a robust reading of every student’s aptitude, allowing them to spend less time analyzing students’ progress and more time on figuring out how to support their students’ learning. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is committed to ensuring states have high-quality assessments and has also produced a document to support the appropriate selection and evaluation of high-quality assessments. 

• High-quality assessments measure the knowledge and skills that are part of regular classroom instruction such as asking students to think critically, analyze information, and explain their answers. 

Related Resources and Research

• U.S. Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter to Reduce and Improve Testing (February 2, 2016) 

• U.S. Department of Education Dear Colleague letter on assessment participation rates (December 22, 2015) 

• Opt Out Policies by State, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) 

• Responding to Opt Out Requests: The Opportunity for State Boards, NASBE 

• Opt Out Guidance State by State, NASBE (included at the end of this document) 

• Knowing the Score: The Who, What, and Why of Testing, Center on Education Policy 

• State Opt Out Legislation in 2015, National Conference of State Legislatures 

• Civil Rights Groups: "We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts" 

• Testing Provides Critical Information, Phi Delta Kappa 

• Why civil rights groups say parents who opt out of tests are hurting kids, The Washington Post 

• Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools: An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis, Council of the Great City Schools 

• Testing Overload in America’s Schools, Center for American Progress (CAP) 

• Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act: Toward a Coherent, Aligned Assessment System, CAP 

• The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools 

• The 2015 EdNext Poll on School Reform: Public thinking on testing, opt out, common core, unions, and more 

• Education Post Poll: National attitudes around education issues, improvements and institutions 

• Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts, Achieve 

• Comprehensive Statewide Assessment Systems: A Framework for the Role of the State Education Agency in Improving Quality and Reducing Burden, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) 

• Assessment Quality Principles, (CCSSO) 

• Criteria for High-Quality Assessments, (CCSSO) 

Partial List of Organizations that also Support Full Student Participation in State Assessments

The American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA)

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)

Education Trust

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

NAACP

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)

National Urban League (NUL)

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

TASH

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce