Imagine that a school district notifies parents that they must take their child to a location 90 miles from home for testing. Transportation will not be provided; parents are responsible for ensuring that their children arrive every day at their assigned testing site for up to a week, until all exams are complete. Families with multiple children may need to travel every day for two or three consecutive weeks, depending on the kids’ grade levels and the tests they must take. This may require making hotel arrangements and requesting leave from employers to ensure their child is present each day.
This scenario is, of course, crazy and would never happen in a regular school district. Yet it is reality for students in full-time, statewide online public schools.
Online students learn primarily from their homes and are connected to their schools through technology, receiving lessons and instruction online from teachers. Online schools differ from traditional schools in how they deliver instruction and states generally allow them some flexibility, but not for standardized testing. Idaho has very strict rules about how public schools administer state tests. Even though online schools teach students “virtually,” they must administer state tests face to face, in proctored settings — no exceptions.
Online schools do their best to limit the travel burden on families, but that is not always possible, especially in Idaho. It is not uncommon to hear stories from parents who stay overnight at hotels or with friends or relatives, or even use personal vacation time.
This is very different from the experience in traditional schools, where state testing is typically treated as just another day in the same classroom with the same teacher. In fact, administrators in brick-and-mortar schools try to structure the school day to feel as routine as possible to lessen the anxiety of state testing.
However, there is nothing routine about state testing for online students. This raises several questions: What are the psychological impacts on students who take state tests away from where they learn every day? What about students with social or emotional issues — for example, children with autism — who choose online schools because they need a comfortable, familiar setting? Though we don’t know the magnitude of the impact, it’s hard to argue none exists.
Policymakers and regulators overseeing online schools are often not aware of what their students endure during the many weeks of state testing. Few understand the stress, logistics, costs, and labor involved, for online parents and teachers.
I know state testing is an annoyance for all of Idaho's schools, students and their families. However, it is a nightmare for parents of online students. I want online teachers to be tasked with proctoring state tests over the internet. If the department of education doesn't like that idea, at the very least the state should provide financial assistance for online schools to make "testing sites" available that are closer to home for all online students.