We are concerned about all the tests in school. It seems like more every year. Our daughter started out loving school but now in fifth grade she complains about all the testing.
Guess what? A grass-roots movement has been underway for about a year. And there’s a new buzz word: OPT-OUT! That’s right; parents are exercising their rights to opt their students out of taking standardized tests.
A group of teachers boycotted testing last spring in Seattle and the movement quickly spread to New York state. The revolt to liberate kids from a test-obsessed education system now includes some Minnesota schools. A story in the April 26 Star Tribune tells of 100 students (out of 140) in the ninth-grade open program at South High School in Minneapolis who opted out of the MAP tests last fall. This spring over 250 upper grade students will not take the MCAs. But they aren’t the only ones; the opt-out movement is now nationwide and includes followers from all backgrounds and persuasions.
Minneapolis School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson responded to the Tribune article, saying, “Test scores do not necessarily equate to learning but they do play a critical part of the learning process.”
But she also noted that the district will take part in examining its test regimens because “We want to make sure that we are not overly assessing students and that we are gathering meaningful and useful data that will improve student results.”
Meanwhile, the St. Paul district plans to reduce testing 25 percent over three years.
As the number of government-mandated tests increases, so does frustration among teachers and parents. They are concerned about too much time spent on teaching to the test, practicing test-taking skills and taking the actual tests. In New York, where parents of 10,000 students refused the tests last April, fifth graders spend about 540 minutes just on test-taking. Other concerns include the shrinking focus on arts and physical education, decline in students love of learning, and devalued teachers. Yet another issue is the cost and corporate power. Mandated Common Core (see the May 7 Daily News story) curriculum materials and the testing materials which go with them must be purchased from giant educational publishers.
More parents now understand that one-size-fits-all tests can produce narrow, misleading snapshots of students, teachers and schools. They know that while tests are necessary, they have more value when they are high-quality assessments that demand critical thinking, problem solving and higher level thinking skills. Such a focus promotes better teaching, learning and student engagement.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (see fairtest.org) works to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial. Their slogan is “Less testing, more learning,” and they have three goals:
• Stop high-stakes use of standardized tests.
• Reduce the number of standardized exams and the time and money spent on them.
• Replace reliance on standardized tests with multiple forms of performance-based evidence of student learning.
Opting out is a bold move. You will meet with resistance from administrators who, for best overall results, want and need all students to be tested. If opting out feels too drastic for your family, you can still share your opinions and keep informed by talking to educators, other parents, and your children. Above all, remember that your kids are so much more than test scores.
P.S. Just heard the end of an interview with Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed.” He says, “Character, not test scores, is the key to children succeeding in school and in life.” He argues that character can be taught and that we all have a responsibility to help develop it in students.
Gloria Olson is a retired teacher with 38 years of experience in special education, gifted education and the regular classroom. Write to her at email@example.com.