Education, opt out, standardized testing

10 Q&As About Opting Out

When talking to folks about my family’s decision to opt our children out of standardized testing (UPDATE #1: we must now “refuse” testing, as there is no “opt out” option in the state of NH) I find myself answering the same ten questions about the tests, my parenting philosophy, the Common Core State Standards, and the entire school reform movement. In response to that, I thought I would write a blog post that would give these well-meaning and (largely) delightful people a handy-dandy guide to our decision. Enjoy–and please feel free to add your own questions or comments below!

1. Why do you want to opt your children out of refuse standardized testing for your children?

This one is easy. Our main reasons are as follows:

  • We believe that our children’s educational progress can best be measured through their daily school work and regular classroom assessment and that “snapshot” tests, such as the NECAP, the STAR assessment, and the Smarter Balanced assessment, cannot adequately assess the concepts and skills that children, including our daughters, possess—certainly not as well as their caring and capable teachers, who work with them daily;
  • We believe that assessments like these create undue stress and anxiety and send a message about teaching and learning about which we fundamentally disagree;
  • We can find no evidence that these kinds of assessments serve any learning objective at all (for students or for teachers)– and in fact, serve to steer students away from actual educational experiences.
  • We believe that in doing so–and in speaking out about it–we can potentially be a voice for those families and students who might not feel they have one…or are afraid to use it.

2. But aren’t public schools, by law, supposed to administer these tests?

Yes, but…well, here: Chapter 193-C (specifically, 193-C:6) of the State of NH’s Revised Statutes states that “each year, a statewide assessment** shall be administered in all school districts in the state in grades 3 through 8 and one grade in high school. All public school students in the designated grades shall participate in the assessment, unless such student is exempted, or provided that the commissioner of the department of education may, through an agreement with another state when such state and New Hampshire are parties to an interstate agreement, allow pupils to participate in that state’s assessment program as an alternative to the assessment required under this chapter.”

However, the state’s own exemption policy states that “districts must juggle state requirements, student needs, and parents’ wishes. Despite a district’s best efforts, situations will arise that prohibit the inclusion of every student. Extended absence, family vacations, significant medical and emotional issues, and parent refusals are but a few of the issues that are not entirely within the district’s control. Students who do not participate are reported in two different ways on assessment reports: did not participate for state approved reasons and did not participate for other reasons.” See NH’s own statements on the matter below:

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**UPDATE #2: As part of an attempt to reduce the amount of standardized testing that is administered to students across the state in grades 3-11, NH districts will soon have the option of participating in a “responsibility” (not “accountability”) system of performance assessments called PACE. Before you get all googly-eyed, see here and here for my thoughts about and experiences with PACE thus far.

3. Aren’t schools penalized for allowing students to opt out of refuse these tests?

Only in the vague sense that students who do not participate in the state-wide math and reading assessments due to any of the “other reasons” stated above negatively affects what the state calls “reported participation rates.” Some have told me that schools may be at risk of losing funding such as that provided by Title 1. But the second part of my answer to this question includes the phrases “not my problem” and “maybe we should take a cold, hard look at this ridiculous accountability system, then, don’tcha think?” Is it, in any way, appropriate that states (and  by association, schools, teachers, and students) are essentially held hostage by the Federal government via these mandated assessments? Not in my book.

4. Don’t you think you’re being a little bit of a helicopter parent? I mean, really. Kids need to experience anxiety and stress in order to grow up to become well-adjusted adults, dammit!

Hey, c’mon now. One of my favorite pastimes is making fun of helicopter parents. (Kidding.) By opting my children out of refusing standardized assessments, I could make the argument that I think my kids ought to be hovered over less, not more. And I’m not opposed to them experiencing anxiety or stress. Believe me, my kids experience enough anxiety and stress when I force them to clean my bathroom floor with a toothbrush every other Sunday.

5. Does this have anything to do with your objection to the Common Core State Standards?

Not really. Don’t get me wrong–the CCSS and many high-stakes assessments, such as the Smarter Balanced assessment, go hand-in-hand. But I oppose the Common Core State Standards for many, many (many) additional reasons, some of which aren’t even tied to standardized testing.  Thank your lucky stars that I don’t have enough time at the moment to list those reasons, ’cause you’d be here awhile. (On second thought, just read this amazing piece by Tom Newkirk. It pretty much sums things up.)

6. That Common Core math–awful, right?

I know not of what you speak. There’s no such thing as “Common Core math.” If you’re referring to the Common Core math standards, well… here, read this.

7. Are you a Republican?

Stop it.

8. Does this mean you’re unhappy with the school your children attend?

No. Both of my children attend very child-centered, community-based, civic-minded schools. Relatively speaking, we’re pretty darn lucky. Our decision to opt out refuse testing for our children has nothing to do with our feelings about our local schools, as my first answer should make clear.

9. So you’ve refused to allow your children to participate in standardized testing. What now?

As of April 2014, we did receive written notification that our district acknowledges our refusal of both the state-wide assessments and the equally useless STAR assessment which, for those of you wondering, uses as one of its own selling points (page 34) that it can be used to make high-stakes decisions. However, we are not so naive as to believe that we are entirely “in the clear,” and we sure as heck will not stop fighting for what we believe is right for students, teachers, and the American public school system in general. (UPDATE #3: We were forced to once again argue with members of our district administration about our right to refuse testing in the spring of 2015. We shall see what this year brings.) Not to get all dramatic here, but it’s enormously important to us to demonstrate to our children that in a democracy such as ours, one should never, ever, feel as though they cannot question the status quo or fight for what they believe is right. Unless they object to scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. That stuff is non-negotiable, kids.

10. Final Question: What do you think your mentor, Judge Judy, would say about standardized testing?

There’s no question in my mind.

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