Last year, parents, educators and community advocates across Oregon joined forces in a campaign to fight standardized tests in schools and the evaluations that arise from them.
Others argued that the tests showed biases that disproportionately harmed low-income schools and students of color. They believed tests unfairly measured schools by resources available to them and then provided cover for school closures.
But if their goal was to rid the state of test-based accountability, they seem to have settled for much less.
In a political campaign, your goal is to win a succession of battles that take you towards winning a war. Oregon’s anti-test activists began theirs by guiding parents and students to opt out of testing.
Their strategy appeared to be based on the assumption that if they gained enough buy-in, testing would lose its relevance and school assessments would become a thing of the past.
Anti-test advocates argued on behalf of students of color and low-income students, wanting to organize in these communities against testing.
Media outlets across the state were filled with stories about student protests and op-eds from angry teachers and parents, few of them people of color or representing low-income students.
Winning the battle, but quitting the war
During the 2014-15 school year, there were protests at school board meetings, public calls for parents to get involved and tons of news coverage of the campaign.
The state already had an opt-out option, but this coalition developed a bill that loosened the requirements for opting out and required that schools take certain steps to make parents more aware of its existence. It got passed by the state legislature in June 2015.
Then it seems everybody went on vacation.
The logical next steps for the movement might have been to continue building grassroots support and asking for specific changes in classroom instruction geared towards tests and the tests themselves.
But there’s not much evidence of energy left in the campaign. A small group in one city and a group of high school students in another don’t seem likely to be able to create the momentum that this movement would need to stay alive.
Is it possible that the activists leading the campaign were content with merely winning a battle?
They seem content to have achieved what they wanted for their own children—easier access to opting out—but have left the field before affecting the systemic changes they said they desired for all students, particularly low-income students and students of color.
As a supporter of standardized testing, which gives us important information about how well schools are educating students, I’m not disappointed the movement has lost steam. But it tells us something about the Oregon anti-testing crowd that’s not too flattering.