Standardized test season is is taking hold in Maine schools, and so is a movement to have parents opt their children out of testing. Across the country, resistance to standardized testing is reaching new heights as two new exams designed to test students’ mastery of the Common Core standards for math and English roll out.

Maine schools are administering one of those new tests this spring — the Smarter Balanced assessment for math and English, which will be taken by students in 17 states. Unlike standardized tests of the past, students take the Smarter Balanced test using computers, and the test relies on computer-adaptive technology to pinpoint students’ skill levels: If a student answers a question wrong, he’ll next face an easier question; if he gets it right, the next question might be more difficult.

The assessment is less reliant on the fill-in-the-bubble format, and it is designed to test problem-solving skills and higher-order thinking rather than rote memorization. Genuinely, it’s expected to be a higher-quality, more challenging test that offers schools and teachers more constructive feedback to help them improve.

It’s impossible to ignore the valid concerns about standardized testing after more than a decade of required testing under the federal No Child Left Behind law: that the tests and related preparation take up too much instructional time, that a focus on testing has led schools to emphasize math and English at the expense of other subject areas, that there’s testing overload, and that it’s stressing students out.

And to what end?

Politicians from both sides of the aisle agree that the law that drove all the testing, No Child Left Behind, is flawed. It set up schools for failure with its unrealistic requirements, and the interventions it proposed to turn around low-performing schools were ineffective.

But the testing and school accountability requirements for the first time focused attention and resources on under-performing schools and under-performing groups of students. Student achievement gains have accelerated since No Child Left Behind took effect, and students of color have made some of the largest performance gains, particularly in math.

Parents deciding whether to opt their students out of testing need to know that their children’s participation in about eight hours of testing this spring serves a beneficial purpose. Beyond the fact that schools with test participation rates that dip below 95 percent face significant federal funding consequences, the best answer at this point is that this first round of Smarter Balanced testing is an early step toward a better educational system. That’s a message schools need to do a better job of delivering to parents who see their kids encountering a proliferation of tests this spring, from Advanced Placement exams to the SAT.

Smarter Balanced’s computer-adaptive nature makes it better equipped to measure students’ progress from year to year. Its computerized nature also means students’ scores will be available more promptly — perhaps in time for the scores to help teachers judge how well their students are doing with specific lessons and adapt instruction accordingly.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in the first year of this new assessment. Scores won’t be available until late June — after students have left for summer vacation — depriving teachers of helpful, real-time data. They compensate for this lack of data throughout the year with other tests, further adding to the time devoted to testing.

But a change in federal law that’s appearing more likely to succeed than past attempts to rewrite No Child Left Behind could allow schools to split up testing so it’s not all delivered in one time-consuming, stress-inducing block. The added benefit would be feedback on student performance delivered throughout the academic year that teachers can use to adapt instruction — perhaps replacing other tests they now use with the Smarter Balanced tests and reducing the overall time spent on testing.

This first year of Smarter Balanced testing is an early step toward that educational system that — like other modern industries — makes effective use of data so it can improve rather than simply stress out both students and parents with the annual standardized testing ritual.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...