Children in Oregon start going back to school this week. Students at Oregon's largest district, Portland Public, head back Thursday.
They'll return to classrooms with parents and teachers likely remembering the conflicts from last school year over standardized testing.
Last school year, thousands of Oregon students opted not to take the new "Smarter Balanced" exams — as many as half the test-taking students in some schools. When test results came back, Oregon found many students fell short of passing — but not as many as state officials had feared would fail.
But in the end, those test results didn't count. The U.S. Department of Education approved a revised waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law for Oregon — allowing a "pause" from accountability for 2014-15. That permission coincided with Oregon legislators passing a bill along similar lines. However, state officials say that's not a long-term strategy, and they anticipate that tests taken this school year will count.
However, there could be changes afoot.
The No Child Left Behind law, which has been due for renewal since 2007, could actually be revised in the coming months. Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed new education bills. They're different from each other, though, and would have to be reconciled and signed by President Obama to become law. The strongest desire for many federal lawmakers is to balance the national interest in holding schools to high standards with placing more of the accountability in the hands of state and local officials, rather than the feds.
There's also a growing interest in Oregon in changing the focus of assessments. Representatives of the Oregon Education Association and the Oregon Education Investment Board worked for months on a new approach to testing, which shifts the emphasis from "high stakes" end-of-year exams to more classroom-level "formative" assessments.