During the last decade, the number of standardized tests given to American schoolchildren has skyrocketed.
As parents become increasingly frustrated by the hours kids spend prepping for, and completing, fill-in-in-the-bubble assessments, some are deciding to take action.
Tim Slekar is a professor of education in Pennsylvania. To protest his local school’s over-emphasis on boosting test scores at the expense of a well-rounded education, he opted his son Luke out of standardized testing last year.
“Stop treating my child as data!” Slekar protested. “He’s a great kid who loves to learn. He is not a politician’s pawn in a chess game designed to prove the inadequacy of his teachers and school.”
For parents wondering whether opting out is a viable option, here are five things to consider:
1. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Though schools don’t publicize it, parents have the legal right to say no to standardized tests. In states like Colorado, parents can simply inform the school that they don’t want their child to take the test.
Other states like Pennsylvania allow students to skip tests if parents object on religious grounds.
Children who opt out are allowed to attend school the day tests are given, and typically spend the time working independently. Parental refusals have no impact on a student’s grade.
2. IMPLICATIONS: Many parents who are against testing still allow their children to participate because of the negative effect refusal could have on their child’s school. A low test participation level could prevent the school from achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) which results in punitive consequences under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
But with the Department of Education’s recent announcement to grant states waivers from NCLB requirements, the threat of not making AYP will no longer be an ominous deterrent.
3. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: To find other families exploring the opt out option, moms and dads are turning to Facebook. One Florida-based Facebook group called “Testing is Not Teaching” boasted about 13,000 supporters. Another called “Opt Out of the State Test—The National Movement” attracted 600 members in its first few days online.
Author, activist, and former teacher John Taylor Gatto started a movement called the Bartleby Project. It’s a call to action for students to boycott standardized tests by writing “I prefer not to take your test” across the tops of their papers.
Gatto’s argument is that kids and parents should not be forcibly subjected to tests that “pervert education, are disgracefully inaccurate, impose brutal stresses without reason, and actively encourage a class system which is poisoning the future of the nation.”
4. THE SIX PERCENT RULE: According to Dr. Yong Zhao, Associate Dean for Global Education at the University of Oregon, schools need a 95 percent participation rate for state test scores to count.
His message to parents is clear: “If only 6 percent of students per site were opted out of testing, then the dialogue for real change could begin.”
5. AN END TO TESTING?: Even if the movement to opt out of standardized testing continues to grow, state tests are not likely to disappear anytime soon.
In a speech he made at a Virginia school in March, President Obama acknowledged the need for testing reform, but affirmed the necessity of state level assessments.
“There will be testing,” he said. “We can have accountability without rigidity—accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators.”
Yet advocates for test refusal argue that opting out is the best way for parents to make their voices heard, and take a stand against education policies they find objectionable.
As a father of two, Forbes contributor E.D. Kain wrote: “Oddly, as school choice has become the buzz phrase of the education world, I feel that I am confronted with fewer choices than ever. The rug has been pulled out from under us, leaving schools, teachers, and parents—and most importantly children—on unsteady feet. It’s good to know that people are starting to take action.”