educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Opting out of standardized tests

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Part 6 (of 874) in an occasional series about how standardized tests are destroying education.

One frustration with standardized testing is its seeming inevitability. The bureaucratic, Kafkaesque testing structure. Your disagreements don’t matter. Your arguments and pleas don’t matter. You will be tested. But what if you didn’t have to take a standardized test? A growing number of parents and students are exploring that: Opting out of standardized tests.

On its site, United Opt Out National offers information about opt out strategies and ways to connect with those who have chosen this path: http://unitedoptout.com/

Where is that path leading? This Washington Post article discusses the growing movement of people who, for many different reasons, are exploring opting out of being subjected to standardized testing: “The opt-out movement is nascent but growing, propelled by parents, students and some educators using social media to swap tips on ways to spurn the tests.” In the article, Maria Ferguson, of the Center on Education Policy, said, “The sentiment behind it is more common than people realize.”

Well, I believe that, since almost no one I have ever talked to in education circles stands behind today’s testing environment. They voice the common frustrations that are driving the opt-outers. Educational costs, for one. State spending on standardized testing grew from $552 million in 2001 to $1.7 billion in 2012, according to surveys performed by the Pew Center on the States and the Brookings Institution. With these costs come increasingly high stakes, which may lead to incidents like the recent Georgia school test cheating scandal. Mindless drilling. Biased tests. Wasting school time. Wasting the human potential of administrators, teachers, and students. Waste.

These are frustrations now being acted on in many different places by parents. Last year, Florida parents signed a petition against the use of the FCAT, Florida’s version of standardized assessment. In this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial, Kathy Newman, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon, describes how she chose to have her young son opt out of his standardized tests. “I want my children to learn, but also to love to learn,” she writes.

Some of the opt-out decisions are being made by students themselves. More than 300 Chicago students boycotted day two of their standardized testing battery.  Student organizer Alexssa Moore, a high school senior, said “We’re just trying to make a statement that tests should not determine our future or the future of our schools.”

Many education groups have issued statements criticizing overuse of high-stakes tests, such as this National Council of Teachers of English statement. Perhaps this incessant assault on standardized testing by almost everyone who is actively involved in educating kids is having an effect. Even Texas, that bastion of standardized testing, is considering reversing course and downplaying standardized tests, as The New York Times reports.

With a push from social media, could people finally come together and realize the vast number of people who share common ground on this issue?

Could opting out work to severely lower the profile of standardized testing in U.S. schools? Could it help re-direct standardized testing dollars toward smarter ways to assess and think about schools? The idea of choice is by itself invigorating. If people think testing is a negative aspect of their children’s education, is something that can hurt their children, perhaps they have tangible strategy of action: Choose not to. They can opt out.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the writing center. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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5 Responses to “Opting out of standardized tests”

  1. As a teacher, I am in love with this movement! (Especially for young children who at 8, 9, and 10 years old are expected to have the maturity and stamina to take these grueling tests – and they are GRUELING!). My 9 year old students have taken 4 benchmark tests this year issued by the state. They were week long tests and are going to be taking the famous NJASK next week which is another week long test. 5 weeks of testing? The school has to be on “lock down” during testing? Is this REALLY necessary? I think it has become a situation that is out of control.

  2. A story near and dear to my heart Scott.
    I wrote a letter to my district 2 weeks ago and “opted” my
    daughter out of NJ-ASK last week. I did it out of frustration with my districts test based curriculum. She has been going over testing “drills” for the entire month of April. She is forced to take NJ-ASK Prep as her special each day. The amount of information being pushed at my child(not taught) was incredible. There was very little learning going on, just a frantic atmospere that I could feel each day my child came home with more and more review work.
    The Guidance dept seemed rather shocked at my choice, in fact they seemed shocked that I had a choice. I will tell every parent I know that they have a choice. United Opt Out National was a wonderful tool for me. I will be opting her out every year that I can.

  3. In Washington DC opting out is not an option anymore. Students who opt out face consequences such as being removed from their sports team. Not every school is doing it though. People are scared here. Nobody complains but everyone hates the testing. SAD

  4. Think back on the worst day of any one of your school years and ask if this is the time slot you want to use in determining your life success or failure. This is what happens to many of our children because so much emphasis has been placed on standardized tests. A young Jersey Shore student, who happens to be dyslexic, is still fighting the powers that be for a change in thinking regarding her fate in not being permitted to get a diploma from high school because of her inability to pass the state test. Fair? I don’t think so, but so it goes for many of our children who are unable to perform well in standard testing situations. One day does not dictate what a student has absorbed during his school years. With all the progress being made to address individual needs…how could we keep missing this one? Opting out sounds like a great option to me. Hooray!!!

  5. In new Jersey, it is about to get even more insane. Current sixth graders could see as many as 11 PARCC tests in high school, in the core subjects. These test will be required for promotion. The state is still working on the plan, but it is coming, nonetheless. Scary.

    Those who can afford it might consider “opting-out” by enrolling their kids in private schools. While they use standardized tests, private schools tend to use the results as diagnosis for growth, instead as a high-stakes performance evaluation for kids and teachers.

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