Opting Out: Some Calm Analysis of What It All Means

I really enjoy reading Frederick Hess' writing on education issues.  On the face of it, I didn't that could be true as he works for the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think-tank.  He just happens to be someone who leans right for sure but is a rational, honest thinker and bravo to that.  He'll call everyone out if he thinks what they are doing in public education does not make sense.

From the Daily News, his recent piece, "What to Make of the Testing Opt-Out Tsunami."  (I'll note that he is talking about New York state but the fact that it spread throughout the country - especially for first-year states like ours - says a lot as well.)

His last two paragraphs are good examples of clear thinking about what it all means.
In many ways, the anti-testing backlash is just more collateral damage brought by the headlong rush to adopt the Common Core standards across the nation. Frustrated parents have fought back in the ways they can, and one of the most powerful is to delegitimize the tests that make those standards matter. The backlash is not just about the Common Core, of course, it’s due also to a sense among many parents that these tests and the accountability systems linked to them are not good for their kids or responsive to their concerns.

Proponents of measured, restrained test-based accountability should not dismiss these concerns. School reform advocates have sometimes belittled this kind of pushback as misguided or malicious. That’s a huge mistake. Hundreds of thousands of New York families are sending a signal flare: that they’re skeptical of the value of these tests, don’t necessarily trust the results, and think test-based reform has distorted the nature of schooling. This is a useful and healthy warning, and one that policymakers would do well to heed.
From the article:

It’s been an awful week for standardized testing — quite possibly, the worst week ever. With New York families “opting out” of state tests and Atlanta educators facing jail time for doctoring tests, the assumptions of two decades of school reform are being called into question. Starting in the 1990s, the idea of annually testing students in reading and math and then using those results to keep an eye on schools enjoyed broad support among parents and elected officials in both parties.

That consensus has existed for a reason. Used with appropriate humility and discretion, annual testing provides a useful snapshot to parents, educators, and voters. It helps ensure that vulnerable students don’t slip off the radar. It lets schools and school systems make the case that what they are doing works. 

That consensus now shows signs of unraveling. The “opt out” movement, in which parents opt to not have their children take state tests, has taken on a life of its own. In New York, fueled by parent anger at the new, tougher Common Core standards, 60,000 students last year opted out of the state reading and math tests, which are administered annually to students in grades three through eight. State tests started this week, and it appears that the opt rate has increased exponentially.

The Daily News reports that some estimates put the number of students opting out as high as 300,000 students — which is approaching a third of all tested students. The Buffalo News reports that 70% of 2,976 eligible students in the West Seneca School District have refused to participate in the New York state tests that started on Tuesday. In some school districts, the figure was more than half.


seattle citizen said…
I'm in Oregon on the beach. The sun shines on the article in today's Oregonian reporting opt-out rates at Portland schools:
Percents opting out at:
Abernathy Elementary: 50%
Metropolitan Learning Center K-8: 33%
Creative Science K-8: 32%
Alliance High School: 30%
Sunnyside Environmental K-8: 26%
Overall, about 5% of Portland students have opted out.

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