Sunday, April 3, 2016

8 Reasons To Opt Out

My children are grown now. If I had school age children, they would not be taking the Big Standardized Test. Here's why.

Burden of proof.

If your senator calls you into the office and says he wants you to have your doctor cut off both your legs, you are entitled to demand convincing proof that the amputation will be good for you.  "There's a big problem with widget production in America" is not proof unless it is accompanied by evidence that your loss of legs will fix the widget problem. You certainly have no obligation to answer questions like, "What limbs do you want to get cut off instead" or "Don't you care about widgets."

The burden of proof is not on you. It is on the people who say your child "must" take the test, and after years of this testing, they still have not met that burden.

No actual benefits to teachers. 

Your child's test results will not help me. I am not allowed to know what questions were asked, which questions she missed, or how she answered them. Depending on the state, I may not see anything except one word and one number. It doesn't really get much better than that. Depending on the state, I will probably not see these "results" until next fall-- for students whom I have only just met, and so have no context in which to put the limited information.

No actual benefit to students.

What will your student get out of taking the test? Nothing. Well, perhaps fear and anxiety. But in terms of analyzing her strengths and weaknesses, there is not enough data returned from the test to mean a single thing, particularly since that data was collected by a single standardized test. Even multiple standardized tests will not tell as much as daily contact with a live, trained human being who sees the student as a real, live, multifaceted human being.

This is not life.

Standardized testing is not an important part of regular life. There's no standardized testing in finding your mate, loving and caring for your children, worshipping in the church of your choice, collaborating with your co-workers, being an important member of your community. There are certainly people who think that standardized tests should be a regular part of life, and they are working hard to inject standardized testing into places it does not belong. This is one of those places.

It's tiny.

I know it takes up a lot of time and care and worry, but the BS Test measures just a narrow sliver of the entire child. It's like creating an entire profile and evaluation of your entire child based on your child's toenail clippings.

Be heard.

Were you bothered by how much of your child's year has been devoted to testing preparation and the test itself? Your local school administration may be committed to the BS Test, or they may just be running scared. You can certainly try to talk to them and to the politicians and bureaucrats in your state, but the most powerful message you can send is for the opt out numbers to get bigger and bigger. The parents of New York made themselves heard last year, resulting in state government pretending to address their concerns. True, the state did not actually address those concerns, but the attempt at PR gloss represented at least an acknowledgement that parents need to see change. Now, when this year's opt out numbers go up, the state will have to realize that this is an issue they can't PR their way out of.

For the children.

I'm not even talking about the horror stories of vomiting or children with disabilities forced to take the test.

What does it do to raise a generation to think that "educated person" means "someone who scores well on Big Standardized Tests." What does it do to a generation to be raised thinking that the central purpose of school is the BS Testing. Even children who can take the tests calmly and do reasonably well need to know that there are things far more important to their education, to their lives, than the BS Test. 

Sometimes enough is enough

Here is a practice that has produced no benefits, helped no students, and improved no schools. At the same time, it has sucked up mountains of tax dollars, taken time away from actual education, and damaged schools across the country by narrowing their focus to only what is On The Test.

To insist that Big Standardized Testing is somehow a critical part of education is nonsense. It is way past time to say so, and nothing says so like refusing the test. 


  1. Thanks, Peter. I wish I could tell my students this.

  2. You stated this perfectly. Thank you.

  3. This article is hitting the nail on the head. The last paragraph says it most of what is wrong here. But I would like to add.....Not only is test prep consuming education time it has caused the lives of these kids to change in other ways. Recess is not happening in many Florida Schools because it is considered less important than test prep. Are the PhD's that write these policies even aware that there is an obesity epidemic among children? Are they even aware that children need to be able to exercise and burn off that energy, that much of what kids need to learn is done through play? The answer is simple, they have lost touch with the little lives they are supposed to be nurturing. Another disturbing trend is that free outdoors time is used as a reward/punishment for children at the very end of the day. Maybe the kids get to go outside before dismissal if they were good all day closed in their classrooms getting drilled with test prep, but maybe they don't. Can you imagine a little boy or girl being punished this way when all they really need is to be able to burn-off that energy that translates into poor behavior earlier in the day? Childhood education has already been limited by cutting experiences in art, music and gym because of state legislatures cutting funding for schools because the Lottery is funding the schools now. That is not only wrong it is also negligent. We are going to get out of children what we put into their education. What we are witnessing with BS testing is not right, not effective, and not cost effective either. What it is doing is stressing our little children, weakening not only their bodies but their education, stressing the parents and family. All because the DOE wants cost justification for teachers raises or lack thereof. This is NOT accountability folks this is a blatant destructive abuse of power. This is nonsense.

    1. Totally agree with you. BTW, we signed the petition to restore recess in South FL schools, do you know if there are any good news related to this?

  4. I went to a public elementary school (K-8) in Chicago in the 1950s, at the height of the baby boom. Our classes were crowded, our textbooks old. Our school population was diverse, ethnically and religiously. For some of us, English was not the language spoken at home. In kindergarten, those of us who had not been exposed to books or reading before we got to school learned the alphabet. We all learned to share our toys and tie our shoes. We had recess outside morning and afternoon, and art, music, and physical education classes. Our hours were from 9:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., with a 50-minute lunch. (Kindergarten was a half day––afternoon in the fall semester, morning in the spring.) All of us lived walking distance from school; like many of my peers, I went home for lunch. Somehow, our teachers found enough time to teach us to read and do math. (Most of us went on to take at least two years of math in high school, and some of us took five years of math in four, taking calculus and analytical geometry our senior year.) We had two standardized tests––in first grade and in sixth grade––for which we did not prepare. As far as I know, they were used for placement, i.e., to get a good mix in the classroom of higher- and lower-achieving students. The higher-achieving students brought the lower-achieving students along with them, by tutoring and example. (By high school, we were divided up by academic levels, but that did not happen in elementary school.) Oddly enough, our teachers knew a lot about how much we had learned and about our academic strengths and weaknesses. Weekly (non-standardized) tests, writing assignments, science fairs, art fairs, and individual athletic competitions, created well-rounded portraits of the students. We knew our teachers well, and they knew us, as students and as people. The problem with that teaching model is that stockholders don't make an immediate profit from it. Society as a whole profits from that model, because it creates more aware, involved, and productive citizens. The only conclusion I can draw is that some powerful people would prefer their own monetary gain over what is good for our children's' lives and our country's future. Sad.

  5. #9
    Really poorly constructed assessments; so much so that one must conclude that they were written to purposefully produce the artificially high, super-failure rate s we are seeing. These tests are academic death traps designed to trick, frustrate, tire out, wear down, and break the will of all but the most advantaged and disciplined students. Why should any child be willfully fed into the meat grinders of PARCC or SBAC or Pearson?

    Why should any 8 year old feel any pressure ever, to save their teacher's job by getting a high test score?

  6. Thanks for you post. You offered up a lot of good reasons about why to opt out of testing. The one that stuck out to me most was what you concluded with, that standardized tests raise a "generation to think that "educated person" means "someone who scores well on Big Standardized Tests."" What are critical thinking skills, innovation, and creativity? Are these not the most essential skills necessary for developing complex thought and ideas? In life you are never given five possible answers to a question you have been asked or a problem you need to solve -- it's all free response! My question is, do you think that the entire concept of having a set of standards that all students must meet should be thrown out the window or just the way that we currently measure if students are meeting those standards? If it is just the measure that is flawed, how do you suggest that we assess students instead?

  7. The efforts of the opt-out movement, especially in NY, have really changed the tenor of this debate. But as we see, the kids still have to take the same tests, the federal government thinks they have the right to compel them to, and the vast majority of parents, taxpayers and voters believe the claims of the testmakers - or are uninvolved.

    The money spread around does a great job of convincing the media and state legislators that tests "provide valuable information". In NY, it only took $4 million for the reformers to secure the legislative majority they needed, but the media whitewash really holds the line on public approval. Anyone with a lick of curiousity can go online and find the research showing the tests are invalid - but they don't.

    In other words, we are only in the beginning of an uphill battle that will take a long time, and reformers with their billionaire backers know this well. They openly state that they are prepared to endure the ups and down until new teachers are the vast majority and activist parents age out of the debate.

    It should be patently obvious by now that money-in-politics is the root of cause of not just this education problem, but every other one as well - wars, polluting the environment, healthcare, financial fraud, etc. So I don't think it's possible to separate the issues of useless high stakes tests and the corruption in Albany an DC. And I believe the quickest path to sanity is electoral.

    Not that I think the opt-out movement should let up one bit, I'm just seeing way too much time spent pretending we are arguing facts and statistics when the reformer side isn't even refuting any of it - they are ignoring it. This is not a factual or scientific debate, it's just two sides talking past each other. To really succeed, NY parents either need to spend multimillions buying politicians and media outlets, or get money out of politics.