An increasing number of parents across the U.S. are joining their children’s teachers in the fight against standardized tests and are opting to have their children refrain from participating in any state standardized tests. The “opt-out” movement, as it is known, is relatively small but has grown in recent years, thanks to social media.
As Mint Press News previously reported, while most teachers in the U.S. don’t want a test-free learning environment, they would like to see the implementation of more community-oriented testing alternatives instead of the “one size fits all” assessments known as state exams.
“I’m opposed to these tests because they narrow what education is supposed to be about and they lower kids’ horizons,” said Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle-based teacher. “I think collaboration, imagination [and] critical thinking skills are all left off these tests and can’t be assessed by circling in A, B, C or D.”
Now that parents have joined the struggle against standardized testing, the movement is increasing in size and influence.
Wendy and Will Richardson are two parents who have opted to keep their eighth-grade son Tucker from taking any standardized tests. The New Jersey residents say they are opposed to the tests for multiple reasons and are concerned that because of the tests, students are only being taught skills necessary to pass the exams and face a high level of stress as a result.
“I’m just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it’s being used to define what’s happening in classrooms,” said Will Richardson, an educational consultant and former teacher. “These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They’re meant to find out what kids know.”
Other reasons parents give for opting their kids out of taking the tests include concerns that tests teach children there is only one right answer in academics and in life, cost millions of dollars to produce and implement, take away the joy of learning, encourage some schools to cheat or alter test scores in order to receive better evaluations — while some students report randomly filling in answers because they don’t see the value in taking the tests.
Groups opposed to standardized testing often point out that multiple-choice exams are not the only way to determine whether or not a child understands the material, pointing to alternative evaluations of student progress such as one-on-one communication with students, having students create a “portfolio” to showcase the work they have done throughout the year, writing plays and speeches, and even increasing the number of parent-teacher conferences.
According to FairTest: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, federal law does not prohibit parents or students from opting out of taking standardized tests, but schools must have at least 95 percent of its students take the tests in order to continue receiving No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Title I funding.
But as the organization points out, in most states there are no further penalties if a school has a large student body population that declines to take the tests. The group also points out that schools are already subject to losing NCLB funding if students score below a certain threshold for more than a three-year period, meaning schools that already lost funding have little to lose.
The group also points out that the Department of Education’s general provisions includes that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and states, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role.”
While most of the opt-out cases have received little attention from the national media, there recently have been larger protests. For example, a group of parents and students protested outside the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Other noteworthy events include a standardized test boycott by students and teachers at a high school in Seattle, which prompted the district superintendent to announce that city high schools have the choice to make standardized tests optional.
Tustin Amole is a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District in Centennial, Colo. She said, “We encourage parents to have their kids take the test, but there are no consequences of any kind” if they opt out. “There’s no formal process for opting out,” she said, adding that “[parents] can keep their child home that day and write an excuse.”
But it hasn’t been that easy for all parents.
Julie Borst is a New Jersey parent who agrees with her fellow New Jersey resident and opt-out movement parent Will Richardson that children should not be subjected to standardized tests. She said she didn’t want her ninth-grade daughter taking the state tests because her daughter has special needs and isn’t yet learning at her grade level.
Borst said that after she expressed her concerns about the tests and requested to excuse her daughter from taking them, the school and its superintendent spoke with the New Jersey Department of Education, but suggested this wasn’t particularly helpful.
Instead of allowing Borst to keep her daughter at home on test days, Borst says she is required to drive her daughter to school, where her daughter then must refuse to take the test in the principal’s office each morning that a standardized test is to be administered. Once she refuses the test, Borst says her daughter is excused for the day and Borst takes her home.
“It was kind of convoluted and kind of a dance you do, and the result is the school district, they don’t get dinged,” Borst said.
Maria Ferguson of the Center on Education Policy called the opt-out movement symbolic, saying, “I think it shows that people are very scared and very confused by tests. I think it’s representative that testing has a branding problem.”
But Kristen Jaudon, a spokeswoman for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, disagreed that opting out of taking the tests was a good idea for students.
Jaudon warned that a lack of participation in the tests could lead to a lack of federal funding for a school and cautioned parents that if they don’t allow their children to be tested, they may not be able to identify if a student was having problems in a particular subject. She also said removing the tests would deny educators the chance to measure whether the curriculum is working.
Morna McDermott is an educator and a board member of United Opt Out. She compared the fight against standardized testing to a fight for corporate reform, saying, “Ultimately this is an act of civil disobedience. If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grassroots.”
Peggy Robertson, a fellow Opt Out board member and a Colorado-based teacher, agreed, saying, “You can feel the momentum. I think we’re headed for a full-on revolt next year.”
While the momentum is growing to keep younger children from having to take standardized tests, parents of students who are required to take and pass standardized tests as part of their school’s graduation requirements, are not opting out of the tests.
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