Opting Out Interfering with the “Civil Right” of Testing?
As I write this post, I have in front of me my permanent education record from kindergarten through eighth grade. It is by way of an unusual set of circumstances that I have this file. The short of it is that the records clerk at the first high school I taught at gave it to me in 1992.
It includes my standardized test scores for grades K, 1, and 4-8.
Yes. I took standardized tests beginning in kindergarten. My first was the Metropolitan Readiness Test, Form B (1973). It assessed my readiness for first grade, in six areas: word meaning, listening, matching, alphabet, numbers, and copying.
My teacher used it to help determine whether I should advance to first grade.
The test was not misused to grade my teacher or school.
None of the other six tests were used to grade my teachers or my school. They were used for diagnostic purposes related to my education.
My tests were not used to make me feel bad about myself by way of expected failure rates publicized in the media. My test results were not manipulated by those who possessed the political power to set any cut scores. There were no cut scores. There was no media hype surrounding my testing. There was no need for my parents to be concerned about my emotional well being due to any punitive consequences that might befall me. I was not worried that my scores could be used to fire my teachers or close my school.
There was no need for my parents to consider opting me out of testing.
Those days do not reflect the testing-pressure-cooker reality of 2015.
The resistance to standardized testing overuse and abuse is alive and well– and growing. One indication of the growing power of the anti-testing movement is the inclusion of an amendment to address the issue of opting out as part of the Senate reauthorization draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). That amendment basically states that the federal government does not want to be blamed for any state law concerning parental rights to opt their children out of standardized tests.
The Senate ESEA draft keeps the annual testing that was in place in the previous reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, in the Senate ESEA draft, the federal government wants states to offer the testing while steering clear of any state-levied blame for states’ decisions regarding parental rights to opt out (or not). (Read about the opt-out amendment in this post.)
In the Senate ESEA draft, the federal government wants to walk a noncommittal fence regarding opting out.
Another indication that the anti-testing movement is gaining strength is the May 5, 2015, press release by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The header reads, Civil Rights Groups: “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”: Participation in Assessments Critical for Expanding Opportunity for All Students.
If the anti-testing movement lacked traction, there would be no need for these pro-testing organizations to issue this press release.
Here is where it gets interesting: The writers of the above pro-testing press release maintain that annual testing is critical for the civil rights community because such is a supposedly “the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes.” But in order for this testing to be useful for “equity,” those outside of this civil rights effort must take the tests. That is, no comparisons among subgroups of students can be trusted if some students are allowed to choose to not test.
In short, opting out is ruining standardized-test-dependent, “achievement gap” visibility.
The civil rights authors hint at mandated testing in NCLB in their statement, “Until federal law insisted that our children be included in these assessments, schools would try to sweep disparities under the rug by sending our children home or to another room while other students took the test.”
These civil rights groups want the tests, and they appreciate a strong federal hand in “being counted” in testing.
However, it is that same federal presence that not only tied testing with punishment to teachers, administrators, and schools, via NCLB; that federal presence also inserted itself in the “common standards and assessments” Common Core-PARCC-SBAC push that has driven parents, students, teachers, and administrators nationwide to actively resist test-score-driven, American education.
So, we now have groups representing civil rights community pushing against the grass roots, anti-testing movement, or the “right to make all students take the test” pushing against the “rights of the individual student to not take the test.”
I wonder how it is that the welfare of disadvantaged children has become dependent upon the testing industry– and how this dependence is not giving these civil rights groups in the press release pause.
Regarding the May 5, 2015, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights press release cited above, the Network for Public Education (NPE) has released a statement in response, entitled, Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education: A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts.” Authored by Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian and the NPE Board, the statement begins as follows:
Today several important civil rights organizations released a statement that is critical of the decision by many parents and students to opt out of high stakes standardized tests. Though we understand the concerns expressed in this statement, we believe high stakes tests are doing more harm than good to the interests of students of color, and for that reason, we respectfully disagree.
The United States is currently experiencing the largest uprising against high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s history. Never before have more parents, students, and educators participated in acts of defiance against these tests than they are today. In New York State some 200,000 families have decided to opt their children out of the state test. The largest walkout against standardized tests in U.S. history occurred in Colorado earlier this school year when thousands refused to take the end of course exams. In cities from Seattle, to Chicago, to Toledo, to New York City, teachers have organized boycotts of the exam and have refused to administer particularly flawed and punitive exams.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to dismiss this uprising by saying that opposition to the Common Core tests has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Secretary Duncan’s comment is offensive for many reasons. To begin, suburban white moms have a right not to have their child over tested and the curriculum narrowed to what’s on the test without being ridiculed. But the truth is his comment serves to hide the fact that increasing numbers of people from communities of color are leading this movement around the nation, including:
- Members of the Baltimore Algebra Project organized a die-in of recent Black graduates who took over a Baltimore school board meeting in protest of the school closures that had been facilitated in part by labeling them failing with test scores. Heritage High School graduate Antwain Jordan said of the plan to close his alma mater, “The education system, there is no value on black life in this country. That’s nothing new, it’s not a secret. It’s the status quo, which is why these things are allowed to happen.”
- During the first week in March, several New Mexico schools with Latino/astudent populations of over 90% organized mass walkouts against the Common Core PARCC tests in Albuquerque and across New Mexico, with the message, “We are not a test score.”
- On Feb. 17th the Newark Student Union, an organization led primarily by students of color, occupied the Newark school district headquarters in part because of their opposition to the implementation of the new Common Core tests.
- On April 7th Gerald Hankerson, the President of the Seattle/King County NAACP chapter launched a press conference against the new Common Core, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), tests, by saying, “…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.”
There is much more to the NPE statement, which can be accessed in full by clicking here.
I will close with the following post, dated May 4, 2015, from Diane Ravitch’s blog:
A reader sent this email to me:
At the 6:43 mark of this latest Fordham podcast,, Mike Petrilli says:
“If this [opt-out] thing goes national, the whole education reform movement is in serious trouble.”
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.