Teachers College Survey Examines Who and Why of Opt Out

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A recent study was conducted to determine what the opt out movement is really saying about education in the United States, and researchers found that the public is calling for less reliance on standardized testing.

The survey and study by Columbia University Teachers College examined those who would be in a position to opt out of standardized testing. Those who were surveyed included parents who both did and didn’t opt out, those whose children were homeschooled or otherwise not enrolled in public school, and those whose children were too young to attend school. The results showed that people believe test scores are not indicative of a student’s academic success:

The study found that “Responders are not simply concerned with their children not scoring well on tests – only 4.9 percent of respondents were concerned about test scores.”

Other concerns centered on the test-centric education students receive, unfair standards to which teachers are held based on test scores, and a general concern that standardized testing just isn’t representative of one’s education. Accountability for what students learn plays a large part for those who opt out of standardized testing. Two-thirds of opt out participants believe that the local school board should be held accountable for what students learn, but only one-third of the general public agrees.

As an indication of how strongly those who are opting out feel about the testing, some are even refusing to participate in standardized tests in states where the policies specifically prohibit opting out. This behavior may not affect policy immediately, but it is changing the public discourse about testing in schools.

Teachers and educators have lent their views to the opt out movement to help legitimize their claims. Teachers unions comprised 45 percent of survey respondents, as well as a large portion of those who are participating in the opt out movement.

The survey subjects were asked what other approaches, besides standardized tests, they would like to see implemented to evaluate progress. The vast majority said a student’s work is representative of academic progress. Over three-quarters of respondents said a teacher’s written observation could also be a reliable indication of improvement.

“One survey respondent from California said, “I believe there is some role for state and federal government to monitor and guide student learning, but it is currently being done very, very badly. I think experts in the field of education, and not politicians, should be responsible for shaping policy.””

The majority of survey responders and the general public agree on issues regarding how schools can be improved, with the number one answer as the quality of the teachers being the most important factor.

The study found that those participating in opt out believe they are having an impact on policies and drawing media attention to problems with standardized testing. The two largest teachers unions oppose standardized testing, and now the issue is increasingly being discussed in both the Democratic and Republican platforms for the 2016 presidential race.

Given how effective survey responders believe opt out is, new research could be conducted in directions such as interviews with opt out leaders, ethnic minorities involved in opt out, or even simply more data collection about those who opt out and why. These research ideas could lead to a better understanding of who participates in opt out and why and a better grasp on how to improve standardized testing.