The Key to a Balanced Education (Pro)

Image from the Institute of Progressive Education and Learning

Image from the Institute of Progressive Education and Learning

Clara Chin, Staff Writer

Girl A goes to school in a wealthy suburban area. She takes several rigorous courses, including one in calculus and another in physics. Girl A takes the Smarter Balanced test and complains. She says, “Why do we have to do this? This information is pointless.”

Girl B goes to school about 40 minutes away from this wealthy suburban area. She goes to a school with fewer resources and does not feel challenged by her class. She takes the Smarter Balanced test and does not score well—just like other members of her school. As a result, the school makes efforts to improve their classes. By next year, Girl B feels prepared for the Smarter Balanced test.

The Smarter Balanced test has been a source of controversy within the past two years. It is administered to high school juniors in order to assess the quality of schools. Essentially, test scores serve as motivation for public high schools to improve their performance. Despite its ambivalent motivations, it has received ample backlash. According to an article by Christina Cassidy in PBS*, up to 60-70% of students in New York school districts have opted out. The problem is not the test itself, but the fact that some people are not taking it.

In reality, the disadvantages are far fewer than the advantages. One of the main concerns was that the test was taken on the computer.

“It was a little more difficult having to use all the tools just on the computer,” said Riaz Mohammed (11). However, he conceded, “It does give us more experience on a computer. It helps with typing and using a computer more often. Plus, I know you need a laptop for college.”

Issues with technology occur mostly because the tests are new; these can be smoothed out as students take the test in the future. Using a computer is a valuable skill for college-bound students, so computer test preparation will also be useful in the long run.

Another primary complaint was the difficulty of the questions. Nona Chai (11), who also took the test, said, “The questions weren’t incredibly easy, but they were fair questions that really tested how a student thought, so I think it’s a pretty good tool in measuring how a student is doing. I thought the questions were more varied and made you think more; I appreciated that.”

The largest benefit of the Smarter Balance test, however, is its influence on schools with fewer resources and less money.

“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The threat of bad ratings for schools with students that score poorly provides an incentive for  these schools to prepare their students for the test. As a result, the increase in schools’ test preparation will create more learning opportunities overall. Even for those that do not understand the benefits of this test, it only takes a few hours out of their day. The Smarter Balance test helps students nationwide, while only serving as a short-spanned annoyance for its critics.
*Cassidy, Christina, “Thousands of Students Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Protest,” PBS, Apr. 15, 2015 (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/thousands-students-opt-common-core-tests-protest/).