Is Opting Out the Answer?

High-stakes testing makes many teachers, students, and parents shake their heads.

I have done much more than shake my head in advocating for an end to test-driven education and most specifically test-prep driven instruction. Education driven by standardized tests is simply not quality education, but tonight I dusted off my blogging fingers to discuss a different aspect of this whole debate. The “opt out” movement.

On the surface it seems simple.

The tests are bad. The kids are stressed. The teachers are stifled. Companies are making huge profits from textbooks , test prep programs, tutoring, test materials and even from schools increasing their technology budgets to get computers in the hands of as many children as possible….IMMEDIATELY.  Why not simply say no? No my child will not take the test.

Well, last Spring 25,000 New York children had their parents do exactly that. And administrators scrambled to figure out what to do with those kids. The schools couldn’t tell their parents to keep them home. Then the problem got even more complicated. Do those kids have the right to be educated on test days? Can they read or have other materials out during the test? Should they be given an alternate environment?

Those questions have prompted school districts in NJ to turn to their legislators for advice preemptively in case New Jerseyans get it in their head to do the same as their northern counterparts. An article on http://www.njspotlight.com,
 
 
(http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/14/11/03/administration-moves-to-make-sure-all-seats-filled-for-parcc-tests/)
 
states that the state and federal regulations require 95% of the student body in each district to be tested. Therefore, in order for  opting out to have a real impact in a district, over 5% of parents in the district have to opt out. The consequences for such an organized effort are pretty unclear. Many administrators and politicians have warned that opting out will cause a school to lose funding, though it is hard to find out exactly how many dollars would be lost. I have searched far and wide and inquired at board meetings, but no one has an exact answer. 

The short answer is that if you want opting out to do more than just prevent your child from having to take the test, you need to calculate 5% of the student population in your child’s school and then convince that many people to opt out too. At least that percentage will make administrators raise an eyebrow. (Perhaps throw a pot luck opt out party?) Though keep in mind that even if you opt out of testing for your child, he or she will still have to endure the test prep on an often weekly or even daily basis.

The article I am referring to also went on to quote the Acting State Education Commissioner, David Hespe, at length in advising districts on how to deal with parents wanting to opt out. Here is where the language prompted me to finally put my thoughts down on this blog. “A good parallel is compulsory attendance,” Hespe said on Friday. “Parents don’t have the option, students are supposed to go to school. The same with [opting out], they don’t have that option.”

You see that parents…..you don’t have that option, according to your state government. Even if you don’t mind high-stakes testing, isn’t it problematic that the government feels that you do not have the right to say your child is not to be tested? I know many parents, good parents, that have never been to a board meeting or PTA meeting, or may have even missed a Back to School Night. Well this may be the wake up call you need to get involved, because the powers that be have the idea that our children are theirs, once they enter the school building. That somehow because school is mandatory, then it is required that we butt out of what goes on within those walls. Well, with the rise in drug abuse and school violence, maybe it is time to make those walls more transparent. Perhaps instead of handing each kid a computer, we need to instead take their hand and work more collaboratively as a society to improve education for our children.

This comment struck a nerve for me too.

“The PARCC assessments will, for the first time, provide detailed diagnostic information about each individual student’s performance that educators, parents and students can utilize to enhance foundational knowledge and student achievement,” Hespe wrote.

Why is it that a test like the PARCC is touted as revolutionary? By giving some test designed by people who are probably not educators, we will suddenly have remarkable insight into our children that will miraculously make educating them easy. Once they collect all of the data (that teachers are killing themselves to collect on a weekly basis in some cases), teachers will have the diagnostic information to make students brilliant.

I beg your pardon Mr. Hespe , but if a parent ever wanted  detailed information from me as their child’s teacher; they could always ask me. I knew their child’s handwriting, likes, dislikes, personality, organization habits, strengths, weaknesses and even how best to reach them with instruction. Before the PARCC, I taught a novel where a main character died, because she fought for what she believed in and stood up to the government.  I sensed that the kids weren’t really connecting to the emotional impact of her death. So I made a coffin out of a box and a body from a Halloween costume stuffed with stuffed animals to make it look real. I bout carnations for my students to place in the coffin as they read their goodbyes to her from various characters’ perspectives.  They will never forget writing their goodbyes and reading them to her as she laid there. That Mr. Hespe is education. That is rigor. I didn’t need detailed diagnostic information.

 

If I ever return to the classroom, I would love for him to come and watch what he clearly has no clue about.

IMG_1664

The point is that good teaching will always improve student achievement. Where is the push for more professional development? If Singapore has the highest math achievement, why not send a few educators over there to study it first-hand? If high-stakes testing didn’t fix our problems with NCLB then how is it going to be any better no? Putting the tests on computers is the answer to all of our problems? Somehow I don’t think it is going to change much besides the amount of typing homework kids will be getting in elementary school. (P.S.This is already happening.)

I encourage everyone to become educated and choose the course of action that you feel is best not only for your child/children, but for all of our children. Go to your town board meetings. Ask questions of your children’s teachers and administrators.

Is opting out the answer? Not really, but it is a step in the direction of more parent involvement, and that is what America’s education system so desperately needs.

There are many resources online for anyone interested in opting out or in learning more about the movement. The majority of the websites originate in NY where the movement has gained a lot of media attention in the last year. But I urge people to first access the official PARCC website and take a look at the test first-hand. http://www.parcconline.org/

http://www.nysape.org/about-us.html

http://www.nystoptesting.com/

http://unitedoptout.com/state-by-state-opt-out-2/new-york/

This website is older and was created in reaction to NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

http://www.fairtest.org/get-involved/opting-out

One thought on “Is Opting Out the Answer?

  1. Kelly says:

    I’m glad you dusted off those blogging fingers!! You are an inspiration. Even though you are not in a classroom, you are still educating. Keep blogging!!

    Like

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