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Standardized Testing

Common Core. It’s a subject rousing debate among parents, students, educators and state and federal government. Nebraska is unique when it comes to standardized testing. It is one of four states that chose to opt out of the Common Core State Standards.

Alongside Alaska, Texas and Virginia, Nebraska withdrew its initial support for Common Core standards last year.

Public school students in Nebraska are still required to take part in statewide testing; The Nebraska State Accountability Assessment (NeSA). Nebraska did a side-by-side comparison of NeSA standards and Common Core standards. It determined most of the same material is covered.

While the standards are comparable, there is still strong debate in-state about opting out of the test. Nebraska allows students to opt out, but at the same time, schools are required to have 100 percent attendance for the tests.

John Osgood is the principal of C.L. Jones Middle School in Minden. He said that although students can opt out of testing, the 100 percent test attendance requirement becomes skewed.

“Students who opt out are scored as zero points instead of no score. That greatly hurts your school’s average score,” he said. “Then you get beat up because your school isn’t scoring well, when that may not necessarily be the case.”

Whether the controversy is over scoring or measuring the value of students’ aptitude with standards, people across the country and state are weighing in on the topic.

"The question I have asked for more than a decade now is, 'What do we think we are gaining as a culture by the effort of standardizing learning,’” said Lisa Smith, Hastings College Assistant Professor of Teacher Education. “While I waited for a meaningful answer, I turned and looked for what the exact opposite of 'standardized' was and found creativity and the processes of critical thinking and problem solving.”

Smith has been teaching since 1991. She taught pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. She served as a team-led teacher in a pilot project school in Texas. Upon returning to Nebraska she served as a staff development specialist for Educational Service Unit 9. Today, she teaches emerging educators to 

“pay attention to the skills students need access to: standards.”

“I teach [education students] how to use those skills and the 'practice' of developing those skills to develop meaningful and mindful relationships and classroom communities of active, inquiry-based, dialogue driven learning. This makes standards a 'useful' starting point but also gives children the wings they need to fly,” Smith said.

Students across the state will continue taking NeSA tests and the tests will be provided by Data Recognition Corp of Maple Grove, Minnesota. The Nebraska Board of Education unanimously approved a $7.25 million contract renewal with the organization to provide statewide academic testing services for the 2015-16 school year.

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