I’ve got a friend in New York who wants me to call on every parent in America to Opt Out of state mandated standardized tests which are, of course, the mother’s milk of the No Child Left Untested federal testing feeding frenzy.
The links in the chain of grievances against testing abuse are ponderously long. The excessive federal testing mandates were absurd and many states made it worse. For example:
- Educationally inappropriate, yet still mandated tests, are required of children with special needs, disabilities, and language issues regardless of the circumstances of their situation.
- Then there are the are perfectly appropriate tests that are used for absolutely inappropriate measures like deciding whether to fire a Calculus teacher based on the reading test scores of ninth and tenth graders, most of whom she will never teach at all.
- And don’t forget the 2014 100% adequate yearly progress NCLB mandate, which decreed that every child in America had to meet the cut score on the state’s reading and math standardized test scores or their school would be labeled as “failing.” Only in Lake Woebegon would that be an achievable goal.
In Oklahoma the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if they missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point….one point on one test given on one day. Unbelievable.
The arrogance of politicians who voted to give themselves the final say as to whether a small child should be held back regardless of the professional judgment of the teacher or the wishes of the parent is unforgivable. Even after the outrage of parents and teachers helped to overturn the policy, the harm done to the over 8,000 eight-year olds labeled as failures is inexcusable.
So, back to my friend. She believes that the answer to this outrageous situation is to make it easier for parents to opt out of standardized testing. And my friend is absolutely right that every parent should have the right to have a powerful say in their child’s education.
Parents should have the right to know for what purpose a test is designed and whether it’s valid and reliable for that purpose; how the results of that test will be used; whether or not testing companies will have access to private student information and for what reason those companies need that information.
They should have a right to demand that any testing companies hired by the district sign the Student Privacy Principles developed and endorsed by major student advocates from the PTA to the NEA to the School Boards Association to the American Library Association and the Thomas Fordham Institute.
And they should have the right, if they are not satisfied with the answers to their questions, to opt their children out of any mandated standardized testing that they believe is inappropriate or harmful to their child. NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose.
But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.
Replacing test-abuse with assessment systems that support the whole child is the ultimate goal. That’s going to take organizing parents, teachers, support professionals, administrators, advocates, scientists, tax-payers… everyone has a stake in this, whether or not you’re a parent or an educator.
The billions now thrown at the Testing Industrial Complex is made possible because of the fear factor. Frightened administrators spend scarce dollars on test prep materials. Frightened teachers and para-professionals will spend inordinate hours on training to teach children to be more advanced test-guessers.
We are seeing a reduction in enriching classes like theater and band and athletics across the board. We’re seeing budgets slashed for support services like school psychologists, librarians and health professionals while budgets for test-aligned textbooks, testing software, test training and test practice materials are left intact. New computer labs are being installed – not for children to learn to use in research, but solely for a new generation of computerized bubble tests.
Allowing easier opt out solves a piece of the problem for some students in the short term, and parents absolutely deserve the right to that immediate relief. But even for students opting out, the billions stolen from their programs and services continue. The hours taken from time to learn critical, creative, collaborative skills continue. The labels continue. The fear continues.
The testing monster will not be tamed by tinkering with testing day. The abuse will continue until appropriate assessments are used in appropriate ways. Why something that reasonable should be such a heavy lift is beyond me. No matter. There’s a lot of muscle out there ready to be flexed – short term or long term, we’re in this to get it right.
More details on NEA’s guidance for educators here.