The Opt Out End Game

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.

The pressure placed on students is enormous. Children understand all too well that their test results may be used to label them or their school as a failure. 16379497886_ce7e3533d5_z

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.

pencilBut 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.

10 Responses to “The Opt Out End Game”

  1. Andy Goldstein

    Thank you, Lily. Assessments should serve the needs of our children, not the testing companies and politicians.

    • Gloria Dailey Towner

      Thanks so much for taking on the real reason why our children and educators are losing the teaching and learning game.I recall speaking before a national testing panel over 30years ago to “follow the money,because the only winners that would win would be the testing companies’!

  2. Brian Bur

    Indeed, the end game of the opt out movement is not to make it easier to opt out, it is to eliminate high stakes standardized testing as the end game. Standardized tests should in no way be a part of “assessment systems that support the whole child”.

  3. Sid Johnson

    I am a retired teacher who taught for forty two years and only had to give only one standardized test a year. Does this current testing frenzy mean that my students were deprived? I DON’T THINK SO!

  4. Heidi Schostek

    Hi Lilly! I have a son that is a junior and we asked to “opt out” of the testing and were told that we could but when an overwhelming number of students were being opted out the administration refused the “opt out” for ALL of the students and forced them to take them and to top it all off they said that if they did not do well they wouldn’t be able to get into college! I was furious… My son was so worked up before the test he was physically ill. I told him that it would not affect his future and if it stressed him out that much to just mark “C” on all of the answers then return to class without worry. As a parent and educator I am disgusted at the number of mandatory testing and how much pressure they are putting on our kids rather than focusing on the everyday teaching in the classrooms.

    Thanks for all you do!

  5. Troy RIvera

    Well said. I recently published an op-ed that discussed the opting out issue. I challenged parents to think about this opting out and how it really works. Your statement about the “temporary” fix is valuable. I respect the idea of parents opting out, but I also hope that parents opt out for the right reasons, not just because the “status quo” is doing it.

  6. Jackie Ismail

    Hi Lily! I ad the honor of hearing you speak in Detroit a few months back.
    My 4th grade daughter has completed her 2nd day of MSTEP (we think its a 1 year as they modify the State test). She was so BROKEN when she came home from school. It took 3+ hours to calm her down. She said “it sucks the energy out of my whole body when I sit at the computer for hours”….”why are they doing this to us?” … “I did not get to learn anything today” … “It’s not over Mom. It doesn’t end until the end of May”….uncontrollable sobbing.
    Then I called my teacher friend in Texas. She teaches at a school that is funded based on their test scores. Frequent testing, is what I gather from her. She said that on testing days, students are not aloud to talk to each other the entire day. They must basically isolate from one another, in order not to talk about the test. That sounds like punishment, isolation, abuse. These are children…full of life and love and energy and ideas. These tests are squashing their spirit!!!!
    Her school already takes NWEA 3 times per year. I have been furious about this since my Kindergarten son was part of this frequent testing.
    I have been considering opting them out. I want to know what the teachers assess in the classroom, not what the Standardized Test results are. I want the teachers to have time to teach not teach to the test.

  7. kevin

    It is amazing that the politicians think that the student at any level is cognitively aware of the reason for the tests. I have heard from many that they really do not know what the purpose of the test is and know form past experience that it really has no effect on their grade or social promotion to the next level. It’s useless to them and useless for everyone.

  8. Charl

    Opt Out, Part II- Parents Opt out of Release of Children’s confidential information by Smarter Balanced, Pearson, & PARCC.

    As a parent, I am very concerned about these profit-driven assessment schemes, and all the ramifications of placing the Gates/Broad foxes in charge of the henhouse. And part of what the Profiteers want is access to a gold mine of our children’s personal data.

    Today I submitted a note to my daughter’s school principal (in California) informing them that I refuse to give my consent for release of my daughter’s personal information/data, through Smarter Balanced testing(s) or related activities. I included my concern that Smarter Balance has No Privacy Policy, and plans to disseminate student information, including to third party vendors.

    Perhaps this could be Opt Out, Part II movement. Parents actively refusing to consent to release of our children’s personal (and confidential) information. Smarter Balanced would then have to be accountable for shoddy, unethical privacy protections for minors. Why would an ethical organization make the release of children’s confidential information an Automatic Opt-In? Unless they are more focused on profits and mining our children’s data for competitive advantage in the marketplace.

    My child is not a Product for the Profiteers, and teachers are not the “Workers” for the corporate entities who want to corner the market on Education. Makes the term “knowledge worker” more ominous, Factory-based education, with Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the other Profiteers as our Bosses. Not my idea of a humane or fair world.

    Perhaps we parents can join together in an Opt Out, Part II, and demand accountability from these corporate oligarchs.

  9. Sue Grace

    I never thought I would support opting out, but if nothing else is getting through to the politicians and we can’t replace enough of them, then I support parents who opt their children out of the standardized tests.

    We can’t match the money of Gates, Walton, Jeb Bush’s Foundation, et. al. Arne Duncan, Congress, Governors, state legislators and testing companies won’t listen. We’re losing excellent teachers, terrorizing our students, and closing public schools in the meantime. If opting out finally provides the leverage to stop destructive standardized testing and all its harmful ramifications, shouldn’t we use it before public schools are weakened further? I fear we’re reaching a tipping point from which public schools can’t recover.


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