Opting Out of Standardized Testing
It’s spring! And that means daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and, if you attend a public school, standardized testing. Across the country, in K – 12 public schools, students are being tested far more than is necessary or helpful. What can we as teachers and parents do about this phenomenon? Do we have the right to opt out of standardized testing?
When Did This Start?
Most public school teachers know the amount of time devoted to standardized tests. Since the 1920’s, when the SAT began, standardized testing has been a part of education. If it started modestly, the testing movement has certainly picked up a lot of steam since then.
How Much Instructional Time is Wasted?
In January or February most public-school staff meetings center around rules and protocols to prepare for upcoming standardized testing. Just-the-messenger, well-intentioned middle-level administrators impart information outlining how much time should be spent preparing for testing within the classroom. They suggest how to squeeze in test-prep questions throughout the day, and share links to practice assessments teachers are encouraged, if not directed, to use.
Beyond practicing test items, there is a lot of time spent teaching students how to actually take a test. There are videos to watch, books to read, and scenarios to go through with students on the best ways to attack the variety of test questions contained within the assessment.
By the time the actual tests are given, students have lost out on significant classroom instructional time getting ready for these assessments. It’s estimated that over two weeks of new instruction is sacrificed in order to prepare for standardized tests. Besides the actual time lost, many students are bored, downtrodden, and unmotivated as a result of all the test prep.
What’s the Point?
One would think the point of standardized testing would be to show teachers what students know and don’t know, and to give feedback on how the instructor should move forward. Sounds nice, but that’s not the reality of the situation.
Most standardized tests are administered very late in the year, making any feedback completely irrelevant to instruction. By the time test scores are returned to the school, the student has moved on to another grade with another teacher. Last year’s test scores are of little use to this new teacher.
So who is benefiting from this testing? Students? Ummmm, no. Teachers? Absolutely not. Administrators? Nope. The tests now taking up hours of school time are definitely helping somebody, but not anyone within the school walls.
Opting Out of Standardized Testing
Some parents who have been reading research have decided they’ve had enough of standardized testing. They are saying, “No more!” But how exactly does it work when a parent tells the school their child will not be taking the test?
In order to opt out of testing, the parent should send a letter to the school administrator, saying something to the effect of “I want you to know that my child ________________ will not be participating in the ___________ test this year. Please arrange for him to have a productive educational experience during the testing period.”
What happens next? Good question. Does the student go to the library during the testing period? Does he or she stay home? Something in between? Don’t expect the principal to say, “Okay, thanks!” in response to your letter. Anticipate a reaction somewhere between desperation, outrage, and heartbreaking anxiety.
The principal will likely reach out to you immediately and urge you to reconsider. He or she may talk to you about the fact that, by keeping your child out of the testing process, you’re putting funding at risk, jeopardizing his or her chances at college, etc. Or not. He or she may also simply have you fill out a form stating your intentions and leave it at that.
Will your child be in another room having a productive educational experience? Most assuredly, NO. It’s likely that your child will be in another location in the school by him or herself, working on whatever he or she likes. There will be supervision, but it will probably be from a teacher next door who will occasionally peek in from her own classroom, not someone right there in the room.
Are there consequences to opting your child out of testing? No. In most states, when parents opt their children out of testing, they’re committing an act of civil disobedience. Other than a guilt trip by the administration, the parent does not face any legal outcomes as a result of this decision. Parents may receive a strongly-worded letter, like this one from Minnesota (excerpt):
“I understand that by signing this form my child will be marked as ‘not-proficient’ for the purpose of school and district accountability and waive the opportunity to receive a college-ready score that could save him/her time and money….in addition, opting out may impact the school, district, and state’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.”
Only California, Utah, and Wisconsin have state laws that allow parents to opt their children out of certain state tests. In a small number of other states and districts, local education agencies have indicated that they will respect parents’ wishes regarding opting their children out of tests.
Where litigation has become a possibility in these situations, Meyer v Nebraska (1923) has been cited by lawyers representing parents in standardized testing situations, based on the notion that parents should be able to direct the upbringing of their children.
As the truth about standardized testing spreads, the opting out movement grows. It is truly the only means of changing the broken system of standardized testing. Opting out immediately gets the attention of legislators and policymakers, who are still holding tight to the idea that standardized testing benefits students. In order to hold their attention and change the conversation, parents must simply say no. Opt out.
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