The ‘Opt Out’ Movement among parents seems to picks up steam in direct proportion to how enthusiastically President Barack Obama and his U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan embrace standardized testing. The most recent attempt to subvert the testing system was in Seattle, where over 600 high school students declined to take the standardized test exam in January, but opting out of testing is a hot-button issue today in New York City.
Even when students and their families can be persuaded to get on board, like in Texas, district administrators, teachers and education experts still raise concerns that too much required testing is tying the hands of teachers in the classroom. The clamor has become so loud and so widespread that anti-testing groups like FairTest are now arguing that whatever benefits are there to be derived from achievement testing are more than offset by the angst and cheating possibilities.
The opt-out movement is nascent but growing, propelled by parents, students and some educators using social media to swap tips on ways to spurn the tests. They argue that the exams cause stress for young children, narrow classroom curricula, and, in the worst scenarios, have led to cheating because of the stakes involved — teacher compensation and job security. Standardized testing is one of the most controversial aspects of the accountability movement that began in earnest in 2002 when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act.
It’s easy to see why testing looked like such an ideal approach to assessment considering that the systems in place before were mostly subjective and made comparisons between students impossible. Introducing testing in high school and before allowed states to show exactly what being a high school graduate from their schools meant – that a person was prepared to take on college-level work.
Yet even as President Obama abandoned a large part of his predecessor’s agenda, when it came to assessment testing, he embraced it even more enthusiastically by introducing grant programs that encouraged schools to begin testing their students at a younger age.
The resulting pressure is distorting education, anti-testing activists say. They point to third-graders being coached on handling test anxiety, and 10-year-olds sent home for spring break with test prep materials. And they rail against the time devoted to bubble sheets, which can include weeks of practicing and several days of test-taking.
Noa Rosinplotz, a D.C. public school sixth-grader with a Facebook page dedicated to standardized testing, drew national attention with a firsthand critique of test-taking. She argued that school officials force her and other D.C. students to take a poorly designed test that includes questions that are either unanswerable or contain mistakes.
And of course these concerns completely leave aside the very real possibilities of cheating.
Critics say at the most extreme, the drive for high scores has led to cheating scandals like those alleged in the District, Philadelphia and Atlanta, where the former superintendent and 34 educators were indicted last month on criminal charges related to test tampering and changing student answer sheets to ensure correct answers. Teachers in 18 District classrooms at 11 schools cheated on such tests last year, according to a report Friday from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The report found test-tampering that included providing students with answers, reading test questions aloud and encouraging students to reread specific questions.