Summary of the Case Study: Refusing the Test
Educating in the US is a subject of policy scrutiny, especially on matters pertinent to eliminating learning disparities and inequalities that persist due to socio-economic, demographic, individual, and neighborhood characteristics. For instance, performance gaps among learners prompted the idea of standardizing tests that entered the American limelight in the 19th century.
The origin idea of embracing standardized tests was to improve performance for learners in resource-constrained schools across the country. However, despite this promise, the plausibility of implementing standard tests remains in jeopardy due to the perception that they exacerbate education disparities and inequalities instead of addressing them. In the case study “Refusing the Test: Debating Assessment and Accountability in Public Education,” it is possible to identify the existing mismatches and discrepancies in implementing standardized tests in public schools.
The case study underscores varying perceptions and opinions from school management helms, parents, and learners, increasing the likelihood of opting out of standardized tests. This paper elaborates on the case study, summarizes discussions by colleagues, and expounds on takeaway lessons for improving accountability in public schools.
Summary of the Case Study
In the article “Refuting the Test: Debating Assessment and Accountability in Public Education,” Wilson & Hastings (2021) present a hypothetical scenario regarding a public school in Colorado. The article’s overriding themes revolve around Principal Cora Lewin’s awareness, concern, and ability to spearhead a public school across a turbulent period marred by district policies regarding upgrading non-performing public schools and implementing standardized tests.
Therefore, the case study presents a typical scenario witnessed in public schools regarding the dilemmas and constraints of implementing district educational policies, including controversial standardized state assessments.
The case study begins by providing the background information on the origin of “opting out” and resistance toward Colorado state’s standard assessment tests. In this sense, the resistance started after the state rolled out new science and social studies assessments in the Fall of 2014 that aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
These tests supplement Colorado’s English Language Arts and Math tests developed through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). While serving the objective of improving learners’ performance and preparedness, the state piloted the new social studies and science tests in 2014 (Wilson & Hastings, 2021).
However, the implementation of these tests met considerable student resistance across counties in Colorado. For instance, over 5000 Colorado 12th graders refused to take the tests in November 2014. Although students were not homogeneous in terms of their opinions on the testing criteria, the subsequent resistance prompted the state to make various changes to the testing policy, including moving to fewer and more “meaningful tests like PSAT/SAT. Still, these policy changes did not address the underlying issues surrounding standardized tests.
The Situation in Principal Cora Lewin’s School
After introducing new science and social studies assessments in the Fall of 2014, Principal Cora Lewin’s school remained fairly insulated from the debates regarding “opt-out” decisions. The primary reason Mountain View remained outside the mainstream debate about standardized tests is due to low opt-out rates in Denver public schools.
Although the school management did not contemplate a serious contention around the topic, Lewin held a surprising number of meetings with parents to discuss their concerns regarding testing, where many they turned in “refusal” forms to resist the assessments and “advocate for children” (Wilson & Hastings, 2021). Lewin anticipated that almost half of students in Grades 3-8 would opt out of the upcoming spring exams based on the refusal forms provided by parents.
Performance-wise, Mountain View was neither among the top performers nor lowest-performing public schools. However, Wilson & Hastings (2021) argue that Lewin’s leadership helped the school circumvent district policies that closed low-performing schools as a priority for the district’s “turnaround” efforts.
Despite entering the district’s “watch” due to a series of unconvincing results, Lewin was concerned about the stubborn test score gaps among students that qualified for free and reduced lunch (FRL) and those who did not. In this sense, the school’s performance closely tracked divisions, including class, race, and language.
For instance, many bilingual students did not perform well compared to the school’s middle-class students. Discussions regarding disproportionate academic performance pertinent to race, class, and language dominated perceptions against standardized tests.
Although parents, Mountain View’s management board, interest groups such as the state’s NAACP chapter, and students exhibited varied perceptions regarding the effectiveness of standardized tests in improving learners’ performance and preparedness, Lewin respected their opinions and sought more information about the topic.
For instance, Wilson & Hastings (2021) contend that Lewin saw that many low-income students and students of color had benefitted from the district’s unrelenting focus on raising student achievement but understood some opposition to the tests.
As a leader, she allowed parents to exercise their constitutional right to refuse the tests while endeavoring to reduce students’ pressure on performing better in standardized tests. Further, she insisted on the importance of maintaining shared obligations by emphasizing stakeholder collaboration and discussion to obtain insights into the topic.
Summary of Discussions
The insightful contentions from the class discussion indicate the plausibility of rendering standardized tests optional. In this sense, learners realized a consensus that mandatory tests overlook diversities within district public schools. For instance, George Gamarra argued that standardized tests should be optional like PSAT because they are ineffective for measuring school performance and students’ preparedness.
While responding to this point, Alberta Urbina underscored the underlying disparities between public and private schools by arguing that private companies have done an excellent job in lobbying for their services. Despite variations and diversities in opinions, the overriding conclusion from the class discussion is the need to understand and address disparities in public schools by reforming educational policies.
In the same breath, it is essential to increase funding for public schools to bolster their resource base and improve their performance.
Best Steps and Learned Practices
Principal Cora Lewin’s case study presents a typical example of controversies surrounding standardized tests across the country. Also, it provides an ideal illustration of how school principals should react to controversial state and district educational policies. As a result, it is possible to obtain the following takeaways from the case study:
States should address inequalities in public schools to bolster their performance
It is vivid that standardized tests are ineffective tools for assessing students’ academic preparedness and improving their performance. Mountain View is an example of public schools that grapple with racial, class, and language disparities that increase performance gaps.
While supporting the need to rethink standardized testing approaches, Michael II et al. (2021) argue that these tests overlook issues such as poverty, racial segregation, inadequate funding, and cultural bias. As a result, they widen performance gaps instead of narrowing them. Therefore, states should emphasize addressing these inequalities to ensure the effective implementation of standardized tests.
Upholding parents’ right to refuse is essential for achieving a consensus.
The case study presents the importance of respecting parents’ constitutional rights to impact the process of testing students. In the case study, many parents provided valid reasons for resisting the tests, including their concerns about students with disabilities and special needs.
Although the discussion on implementing standardized tests narrows down to respecting district policies, respecting opinions and suggestions from parents is essential in realizing a consensus on future improvements.
Increased funding from the state can improve public schools’ performance.
Although not directly associated with Lewin’s case study, allocating more funds to public schools can translate to improved performance and address performance gaps between public and private schools. Instead of pushing for mandatory tests, it is essential to allocate more resources for learning-oriented programs such as individualized education plans for students with special needs and disabilities.
This move will address test anxiety and pressure, enhance accountability and school performance, and promote equality in education.
Principal Cora Lewin’s case study presents a typical scenario witnessed in public schools regarding standardized testing approaches as required by states’ and districts’ policies. Lewin is an example of a democratic leader who allows parents, board members, and interest groups to provide suggestions for standardized tests.
Although she respects opinion diversity, it is essential to scrutinize the topic from a broader perspective beyond the school level. For instance, the case study underscores the need to reform assessment policies to accommodate and address resource and performance disparities among public and private schools.
While schools in rural, low-income neighborhoods grapple with class, race, and language inequalities, it is essential to improve their performance by supporting learning-oriented programs, allocating more resources, and incorporating stakeholders’ suggestions to develop policies.
Couch II, M., Frost, M., Santiago, J., & Hilton, A. (2021). Rethinking standardized testing from an access, equity and achievement perspective: Has anything changed for African American students? Journal of Research Initiatives, 5(3), 1–14. https://digitalcommons.uncfsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1212&context=jri
Wilson, T. S., & Hastings, M. (2021). Refusing the test: Debating Assessment and Accountability in Public Education. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 24(3), 105–121. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555458921993181