Monday, March 03, 2014

Testing Time? Time to Think about Opting-Out

One fascinating thing I learned at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin was that Washington State is one of the luckier states in terms of ed reform.  Being behind (or slow to go) the ed reform curve has many benefits.

For example, did you know that there is large (and growing) opt-out of testing movement nationwide?  Indeed there is and I met many parents at the conference who said they were.

I have said that when my sons were in school that if was not a year they were required to take the WASL, we opted them out.  They are both (nearly) college graduates.  

Here's the Facebook page for I Refuse!, a national opt-out movement.   Here's the movement in NY state with their resources.  Here's a round-up of stories from Ed Week on the subject.

From the New Yorker, a very good article on testing. 

Last spring’s state tests were an entirely different experience, for children and for teachers. Teachers invigilating the exams were shocked by ambiguous test questions, based, as they saw it, on false premises and wrongheaded educational principles. (One B.N.S. teacher, Katherine Sorel, eloquently details her objections on WNYC’s SchoolBook blog.) Others were dismayed to see that children were demoralized by the relentlessness of the testing process, which took seventy minutes a day for six days, with more time allowed for children with learning disabilities. One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read “you are either incompetent or cruel. I feel angry and compromised for going along with this.” Another teacher said that during each day of testing, at least one of her children was reduced to tears. A paraprofessional—a classroom aide who works with children with special needs—called the process “state-sanctioned child abuse.” One child with a learning disability, after the second hour of the third day, had had enough. “He only had two questions left, but he couldn’t keep going,” a teacher reported. “He banged his head on the desk so hard that everyone in the room jumped.”

More than five hundred New York State principals have signed a letter of protest, which cites the encroachment of test prep on teaching time, and the expense of test materials, which come out of stretched school budgets. Educators are also questioning the methodology of the tests, which are graded on a bell curve, with the results closely associated with socioeconomic status.

Parents who complain about testing—particularly affluent, educated ones—are easily derided, as they were by Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, a few months ago, when he described critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” 

To which Diane Ravitch said, at her blockbuster keynote speech at the conference,  "My child may not be brilliant but he is not a failure.  And your testing is making him feel that way."

The reasons to opt-out? 

- volume of testing.  Stop the madness!  Parents just cannot take the number of tests (and hours of) that their children are enduring.  One Pittsburgh mom, with a 2nd grader and a 5th grader, said both of them would take 20 standardized tests this year (and that's not including class quizzes).  They have one-20 minute recess a day.  They have one hour of PE a week.  She said the younger child had stomachaches over it.

- types of tests.  There are parents and teachers who see no value in tests that don't mean anything and have no consequences.  (See Garfield last year.)  This year, at two schools in the Chicago School district, teachers voted to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement test this Thursday. (This year the test will not be used for promotions and eligibility for advanced schools.  It is state law to give it and, of course, determines compliance with NCLB.)

These teachers have been warned of disciplinary action against them.  Also, if they encourage students to opt-out, their certification could be revoked by the state board.

This is what one teacher was doing instead of giving the test - working on direct writing instruction:

According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 50 schools have submitted 1,000 letters from parents who will be opting their children out of the tests.  Here's their opt-out letter.

It does seem a principled stand for these teachers considering the stakes.  But the Chicago Tribune editorial board does not agree.

A school is not a democracy. Teachers can't unilaterally decide to scrap a test and defy state law any more than students can veto a quiz because they forgot to study. These teachers set a terrible example for the school's 1,260 students and the entire district's 403,000 students.

There's a great lesson in democracy - telling teachers, parents and students not to take a stand for something they believe in.  (What's very funny is that the Tribune devotes about two paragraphs about the flaws of this particular test.)

Consider your child, consider your options.  It is not a crime against either humanity (or your school) to opt your child out of standardized testing.

Hard to build a data warehouse without data.

Here's a pledge one 27-year veteran teacher in Chicago wrote:


Josh Hayes said...

Thanks for the report, Melissa. I love that teacher pledge right at the end, and I plan to steal it as soon as I need to.

Maje said...

I would love to see a good alternative to testing at our school. At least in K, the kids who opt out sit near the kids who are testing and wait for them to finish. We decided not to opt out for now because the alternative for our 5yo is to sit quietly for an hour and try not to distract her friends into playing with her.

If the school offered to fulfill #1 on the pledge, I suspect they would have a lot more families opting out.

Melissa Westbrook said...

When my sons were in school, they were sent to the library and helped the librarian shelve books or they read quietly. See if that is an option at your school.

Maje said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll do that.

mirmac1 said...

When I first opted my child out of MAP (back in 09), the school admin said she would sit in the office. I put the kibosh on THAT immediately. It seemed deliberately punitive. I insisted she help a teacher or go to the library.

Anonymous said...

FYI - From Ballard HS:

SMARTER BALANCED ENGLISH LANGUAGE/LITERACY FIELD TEST: The Smarter Balance English Language/Literacy Field Exam for 11th graders will take place on the same dates as the HSPE, March 18, 19, and 20. This is an important trial run for the State of Washington to "test the test" as we move away from the HSPE toward the use of the Common Core Standards which go into effect next year. Ballard 11th graders as well as 11th graders throughout the United States are taking this exam to help determine the validity of the test questions. Participating in this exam will benefit Ballard students going forward in the future.

Opting OUT.

Miss Waterlow said...

The Chicago Tribune editorial is execrable.

What if you re-word some excerpts?

"State law doesn't say that BLACK STUDENTS can SIT IN based on their distaste for SEGREGATION, or this particular VOTING REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT.”

“GREENSBORO FOUR, you've made your point. Now set an example for THE CHILDREN and obey the law.

These teachers believe state law is unjust and harmful. They are knowingly breaking that law in an act of civil disobedience. As far as I know, they’re fully aware that they risk prosecution, sanction or the loss of their jobs. By their actions they’re trying to change state law, not simply express “distaste.”

Nobody, including the benighted Tribune editorial board, is required to agree with them. Plenty of folks - even those on the same side of an argument - disagree about both substance and tactics. But to deny that citizens have the right to disobey a law with which they vehemently disagree, fully aware of the possible consequences of their actions - to say, in essence, “shut up and obey the law?” That’s appalling. I’m genuinely shocked.