By Stevie Walker, Catalina Montelongo, and Helen Thias. Edited by Mira Zimmerman
Smarter Balance is a standardized state test, an updated version of OAKS. The test faces a lot of dislike from the student population, but both sides of the argument have to be considered before judgement can be passed. So ask yourself, why do we take this test? It seems frustratingly time consuming and a little pointless, but there are reasons why we take these tests. For one, they serve as a measuring tool for schools. Everybody knows that students perform at different levels of proficiency, some students exceeding proficiency standards and some falling behind. SBAC testing allows schools to analyze the patterns displayed by student test scores to identify areas of weakness and implement the necessary repairs to bring scores up.
Standardized testing also creates a unified measure of student education in specific areas. This way, there is a way to ensure that schools are providing an education that meets or exceeds statewide or national standards. While the tests that the government use to evaluate the success of students are not perfect, they are improving. With the addition of the essay portion to testing with the SBAC test, the ways abilities are being measured have expanded beyond simple multiple choice and more towards skills that are more commonly used by students moving from high school into college. However, while test is getting better, there are still concerns.
While many feel that SBAC is set up to be a college readiness test, those against the SBAC feel that the skills being tested aren’t the same as the ones you will need to be a successful college student. With less multiple choice questions and more free response questions, the test is thought of as an improvement on the previous OAKS test, but it still asks surface level questions. The argument is that these tests take valuable class time out of a student’s day, just so they can sit at a monitor and click through the different options. This means instead of preparing for AP exams that actually hold weight with colleges, we are instead asked to become a statistic for our school and state to interpret. Furthermore, the anti- SBAC side presents the fact that if a school either has low scores or too many students that opt out, it can mean they lose some funding, which seems completely backwards. Firefighters put water on the houses on fire, not the ones that are perfectly okay. Also, it’s argued that it is nearly impossible for a school to meet the standards set. Last year it was presented that over 60% would fail (oregon live)! That’s a majority, which begs the question if the skills tested are really appropriate. Many people feel that if you want to know someone’s true intelligence, they should be asked about what they’re passionate about- listen to their excitement as they describe a car engine, the migration of whales, or imaginary numbers. When asking one of my friends about SBAC, she responded with “We all have our different skill sets, but these tests are like asking a fish to climb a tree.” She argues that they only test specific skills, which a student may be beyond and they may have trouble recalling a formula used back in the 7th grade. She directly experienced this as she is in second year calculus. “That’s not to say that students shouldn’t know basic algebra, but specific formulas for the volume of a cone will likely not come in handy in the majority of people’s everyday lives.” Obviously, there are some benefits in being able to have data on the way schools are performing, but many question whether SBAC is an effective way to gage learning.
Because of all the frustration over the SBAC test, many students are protesting the banes of standardized testing by choosing to opt out. Though it seems counterintuitive to take a test that may not matter for you as a student, it is counterproductive to simply opt out of the test. The school district receives lots of funding as a result of SBAC testing. However, the district only receives this money if they have a 90% participation rate. This is important funding that will help to make our school a better place; no one wants to be the reason their school gets less funding. The issue of Smarter Balance testing is an issue on the state and national scale. A more productive way to go about protesting the SBAC test would be to write a letter to the state legislature, or to raise awareness about the bane of standardized testing via social media. Oregon’s Washington County Representative, Susan McClain, was a school teacher before she became involved in government. She would most certainly be apt to listen to a student’s complaints about the test. The only real way to make changes within the system is to inform the politicians and educators, who make the system, about the inadequate job standardized testing is doing. These are not changes that can be made overnight, but any way that awareness can be raised brings us one step closer to a better education system.