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Ashland makes standardized testing optional this year

Ashland students will not be required to take state assessment tests this year after the school board voted unanimously Monday to pass a resolution calling for a one-year change to the annual Smarter Balance test to make it optional.

According to the resolution, Ashland students will not participate in the state testing this year unless parents decide to opt-in. The district will email families to let them know of the change.

The moves comes about two months after the Oregon Department of Education requested a waiver for state assessments from the U.S. Department of Education, asserting that, “full statewide implementation of the general and alternate summative assessments in the spring of 2020-21 would hinder our ability to provide assessments that have individual consequences for students.”

The Ashland School Board cited that request in its announcement and listed it alongside 10 other justifications for the move in the resolution itself.

Originally introduced in the board’s previous meeting, the resolution passed 5-0 Monday with strong support.

“Board members want to be very careful — they don’t want to in any way put us in a difficult position as a school district,” board Chair Eva Skuratowicz said. “So we had that discussion. (Board Director) James Westrick was very impassioned about the importance, and other board members shared that we’re bringing kids back to school, it’s a crucial time for them to bond with their teachers, with their classmates. We’ve worked so hard to get them there and then we’re going to pull them out for at least a week for standardized testing.”

Skuratowicz also said the state’s move in January to request a waiver also weighed heavily in the school board’s decision.

“We definitely understood from (ODE’s) actions that it really isn’t particularly meaningful for the students to do the SBAC (Smarter Balance) tests this year and that it would take crucial time away from instruction for kids just when we get them back to school,” she said.

In a typical year, every school district in the state is required to administer the Smarter Balance test to students in grades three through eight and 11, which in Ashland comprises more than half the student population. It’s referred to as a summative test because it’s an assessment of learning, not for learning.

Ashland Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove told the school board during its March 8 meeting that the district could do without the SBAC this year.

“The SBAC is a great summative assessment; it tells you at the end of the year where a kid is at,” he said, “but it’s too late at that point to really do too much, and I don’t think there’s a lot of value in it this year, especially as we’re getting kids back into classrooms who haven’t been in classrooms most of the year.”

To “help the ship while it’s moving” Ashland runs students through iReady assessments three times a school year, Bogdanove said.

Complicating any SBAC testing plans is the fact that many students have opted for Comprehensive Distance Learning full-time, while the rest are considered hybrid students, engaging in both in-person instruction and remote learning.

“And if a child is home and distance learning,” Bogdanove said, “there are a lot of questions about how you could administer that test and have it be really meaningful or even an endurable experience for the kids.”

Just before proposing that the board consider dropping the Smarter Balance test, Westrick made the case that given the hardships students are already dealing with adding a week or more of standardized testing seemed like a poor use of time.

“Last month from our iReady scores, we’ve seen the achievement gap grow,” Westrick said. “After teachers and staff have moved heaven and earth to try and get back in school in-person so the kids can come back in-person and sit and take a standardized test, the results of which we cannot use and are not able to be used to inform teacher instruction at all. That seems to me beyond ridiculous. Decisions are being made at the federal level for the comfort of adults rather than what’s good for kids.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Pencil on answer sheets or Standardized test form with answers bubbled. multiple choice answer sheet