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The Standardized Testing Opt-Out Movement: Right – Or Wrong-Minded?
Words like carry, nervous, hate, longi bored comes out of children’s mouths whenever asked about standardized tests. Sometimes chewing gum it’s also heard, but only because teachers are verifying research that chewing it during tests is associated with a 3% increase in math scores on standardized assessments. Small, yes, but considered “statistically significant”, so why not? Ditto when it comes to homework.
As for all these negatives, it’s really not surprising. The fact is, as the Greater City Council of Schools reports, our kids take about 112 standardized tests between kindergarten and high school graduation, which equates to about eight a year. This, in turn, translates into 20-25 hours of class each year!
The result: a collective uproar of parents and teachers and the strengthening of what has come to be known as the Opt-Out Movement. And, rest assured, despite former Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s conclusion that opt-outs are just “white suburban moms” disgruntled with falling scores, this movement has multicolored legs here in Pennsylvania and across the country.
In fact, last spring in Lower Merion, several teachers and parents took a stand against the Pennsylvania School Assessment System (PSSA). Saying, “Our children and schools are more than twenty,” they offered yard signs for a dollar each to residents, and all were quickly snapped up. In the end, about 200 children in the district did not participate in the test. In Philly, that number reached 595, with another 186 taking the Keystone exams. In fact, pressure against the tests eventually forced Governor Wolfe to postpone these Keystones as a graduation requirement until 2019. Meanwhile, across the commonwealth, about 4,500 students opted out one last time.
But according to FairTest’s findings, those numbers pale in comparison to the more than 620,000 students in the 14 states that reported, about 240,000 in New York state alone. In New Jersey, the number reached 110,000, and those numbers are sure to grow this spring.
However, not everyone is happy with this outlook, and that includes the National Association of Parents and Teachers, which takes the position that:
“Tests and assessments are increasingly being used to help students, teachers, schools and parents know what the students have learned and what they still need to study.”
“Teachers can use information from assessments to design lessons that meet the needs of their students.”
“School districts and states use assessment results to assess whether they are meeting their goals.”
“Evaluations are also used by policy makers responsibility– to help measure the effectiveness of programs and schools…”
Then there’s this from Pam Stewart, Florida’s all-county commissioner of education: “… My belief is that students who don’t want to take the test shouldn’t be sitting in public schools because is mandatory and mandatory for students seeking a standard high school diploma. Statewide standardized assessments are part of the requirement to attend school, such as immunization records. This is our message and the which we send you to share with your staff.”
However, the movement is growing. Last February, the 2016 United Opt-Out Conference was held in Philadelphia, and one of its main goals was to do a better job of reaching out to minority families to join. Also, as the organization reminds us: the movement is “much more than simply rejecting high-risk tests.”
For starters, the government-sponsored and funded Common Core-aligned assessments (PARCC and SBAC) are more rigorous than the ones they replaced, so scores have fallen and anxiety levels have risen. Add that to the fact that 42 states and DC, up from 15 in 2009, now require that “student growth and achievement be considered in public school teacher evaluations.” Fanning the flames, New York Governor Cuomo went ahead and proposed that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on these test scores. Oh yes, in 28 states, an “ineffective rating” is grounds for dismissal.
Then there’s the fact that the K-12 education market pulls in over $700 billion a year!
And one final tidbit: New Jersey is, for now anyway, the only state in the union that uses the PARCC Common Core-aligned assessment as a graduation requirement, a purpose for which it was never designed. Stan Karp, director of the Newark-based Education Law Center’s Secondary Reform Project, hopes to pressure the Department of Education to give this year’s graduating class a pass.
At the same time, the California Researchers Alliance for Equity in Education has joined a call to end high-stakes testing, saying there is “no ‘compelling’ evidence” that support the idea that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of children’s education or close the achievement gap, and that the Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability, and equity.”
Then there’s this from Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College: “The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing, and for so long in school and on schoolwork, is harming physical health and psychological of our children”.
Agree? Disagree? Stay tuned; testing season is gearing up again, and so are the non-choices.
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