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.