During the past year, many Maine students and parents have confronted public schools in an effort to opt out of state and federal mandated standardized testing. These students and parents are frustrated by their very real perception of over-testing that detracts from instructional time. They also argue that these mandated tests give a false picture of student ability and achievement, and that there are better ways to measure student achievement.

I think their concerns regarding government overreach in the area of student testing are legitimate. However, there is value in testing that supports a comprehensive program of teaching and learning.

Assessment (testing) is one component of the educational triad: curriculum represents what we teach; instruction represents how we teach; and assessment represents what students have learned or need to learn.

Based on that triad, I think the power and intensity of current state and federal assessment policy are misguided. How do we, as educators, comply with heavy-handed state and federal assessment policy and still engage in assessment practices that benefit our students? I think there is much that parents, students and educators can agree on with regard to testing.

Educators need to have more conversations about testing with students and parents. Having regular, informative conversations should help to reduce anxiety and provide clarifying answers. We need to explain to students and parents that the purpose of testing is not to define who students are but rather to provide valuable information regarding what the student has learned and has yet to learn.

As educators, we often fail to explain why we administer particular tests. “The state makes us do it” is frequently the message parents and students receive. Educators need to be clear with students and parents — we utilize test and assessment data to: (1) measure student progress; (2) inform decisions about instruction; (3) determine where to direct resources; (4) help decide what students need; and (5) determine college admissions and scholarships.


American school culture is well known for celebrating school traditions, such as proms, homecoming weekend, sports championships and graduation. Does our school culture celebrate traditions regarding testing? Do we create a sense of optimism and anticipation? Do we encourage students to view an important test as an opportunity to “do your best” to meet the challenge? Do we publicly celebrate students who make substantial gains between the autumn and spring administration of the NWEA assessment?

As educators, it is our job to prepare students for post-secondary education and the world of work. Holding a state driver’s license is not only vital for most adults, it is also the primary goal of most teenagers. Therefore, teenagers work very hard to pass both the written and driving part of the licensure examination. Those same teenagers, some day, also want to become nurses, cosmetologists, dentists, truck drivers, physical therapists, certified public accountants and a myriad of other occupations that require skills at passing the corresponding state-mandated test for licensure.

If, as educators, we send tacit (or not so tacit) messages to students that we view these assessments as a burden, a chore, or a threat, do we not undermine the entire business at hand?

A healthy school culture is one that regards assessment as an integral part of the learning process and encourages student achievement. Rather than instilling a sense of dread and fear, we should be creating an environment where students want to do their best, free of worry and anxiety.

Failing the notorious parallel parking portion of the driving test does not mean one will never obtain a driver’s license. It simply means one has to practice parallel parking some more before taking the test again.

Granted, the opt out movement has brought to light the excesses of mandated testing. However, as educators, we don’t want to discard the valuable elements of testing along with the less desirable aspects.

We need state and federal government testing policies that are compatible with best assessment practices. The opt-out movement provides leverage for parents, students, and educators to encourage legislators and congressmen to create a testing policy that is less oppressive and more attuned to best assessment practices.

Craig King is Superintendent of Schools for RSU 10.

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