District forces opt-out juniors to test with work samples

This year, juniors who opt out of Smarter Balance Assessments (SBACs) will be required to take an alternative local assessment to verify their skills. Called “work samples,” these assessments will serve to highlight LOHS students’ abilities in lieu of SBACs. The legality of this implementation is unclear since the current law guaranteeing the right to opt-out does not mention an alternative test. However, the school has stated that they are currently looking into the matter. 

According to LOHS vice-principal Dr. Brian Crawford, work samples will be done at the same time students will take the SBAC. However, section seven of  Oregon State Law ORS 329.479, known as the Student Assessment Bill of Rights states that, “School districts and public charter schools shall provide supervised study time for students excused from the statewide summative assessments as provided by this section. The study time shall be considered instructional time.” The law does not mention any form of mandatory alternative testing in place of the SBAC.  

Before the pandemic, students needed to show essential skills for graduation, a requirement that could be met via the SBAC, SAT/ACT or work samples. The past two years, the essential skills standard has been waived as a graduation requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, last spring, the Oregon Department of Education removed all “essential skill” requirements for high schools as they review state graduation requirements. However, this year the LO school district has decided to implement these work samples as a way for schools to demonstrate their students satisfy “essential skills” in certain subjects, though they are still not required for graduation.

“[The way] the student would experience it is; the Wednesday after school break, your English class teachers list the students who have opted out, and the students who are testing,” said Crawford. “Students who are testing get on the computer and will start the test, and students who have opted out will go to a different room and they will be handed a packet of papers where you have to write work samples and work their way through those over the three days of testing.” 

“It’s not meant as a punishment at all… I want to be perfectly clear, it’s so that we can gather the data to see where we’re at as a district in comparison to other schools and what are the areas that we need to improve,” said LOHS principal Kristen Colyer. 

Despite what Colyer maintains, students disagree. “I think the alternate exam is a blatant attempt to pressure students into taking the Smarter Balance assessment,” said junior Keegan Tippetts. “Because of the oblique way they’ve presented the alternative assessment, it’s sort of hard to tell why they want us to take it. Under the assumption its only purpose is coercion (which I think is the only reasonable assumption given the circumstances) I think that the test is immoral and a disgusting attempt at circumventing student agency.”

The date of the SBAC comes as AP season approaches, leading some students and teachers to worry about whether the data collection will come at the cost of class time, student agency and mental health.

“Spring of Junior year is already incredibly stressful because of AP exams, the SAT/ACT, sports, trying to get summer internships and keeping up with the immense workload that the vast majority of us receive,” wrote an anonymous junior. “Taking the SBAC, and thereby reducing our AP prep time, increasing our exhaustion and taking away from class time is literally going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Furthermore, in an email to LO juniors, Colyer wrote that “Third-party organizations publishing school rankings require that X percentage of students participate in the SBAC. These school rankings factor into some college admissions decisions, influence school reputation, and even impact home values. Unfortunately, Lake Oswego High School has been left off ranking lists for the past three years because students had chosen not to participate ….“ leading some students to feel that the alternative work samples may be more about rankings than data collection.

Still, many students find the implementation of the work samples to be an unneeded stressor and a misuse of school authority. “The entire point of opting out of the SBAC is to avoid the stress and time commitment that testing demands. Administering a ‘local exam’ is essentially punishing students for not conforming to the school’s will,” said one anonymous junior. “It violates student rights and creates a toxic environment where students feel that their learning is valued less than a number on a list and a stack of dollar bills.”

Another junior, Julia Martin, shared her thoughts. “Quite frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that they won’t listen to students’ voices and let them opt-out completely. While I understand that the school values the results and rankings that come from the SBAC, I wish there was a greater effort for student accommodation.”

“Although I understand why the school wants us to take the test, I can’t bring myself to care given the way they’re trying to coerce us into taking it. Since the alternate exam means even less than the Smarter Balance testing, I can just fill it out poorly but quickly and then move on to use the time in more constructive ways,” said Tippetts. 

“We’re trying so hard to do the best that we can,” wrote one junior, “and yet the school always wants more from us. Why should our covid-stricken class be the one to make the sacrifice?”