This month, students in Pennsylvania are getting ready to take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams — but not all students. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, there is a growing number of parents who are protesting the growth of the testing culture in the state by opting their children out of the exam.
Pennsylvania isn't the only place where anti-testing rebellion has taken root. Since 2001, when testing was made a mandatory method of student assessment by the No Child Left Behind Act, administrators, teachers and parents have been quietly – and not so quietly – lobbying to have the mandate reversed. In PA, where parents have the right to withdraw their kids from the exams for religious reasons, many of the parents admitted that religion wasn't the main reason for their decision when contacted by the Tribune:
When pressed on how their objections are tied to religion, some parents contend that low test scores lead to cuts in school resources, rather than increases, which exacerbates gaps in racial or economic achievement. They believe that violates many religions' social justice missions.
By law, districts cannot deny an opt-out request.
"The purpose (of No Child Left Behind), while in one sense is admirable — why not reach for the stars? — is also unreachable," said Timothy Slekar, an associate professor and head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State-Altoona. "The idea that every student in every fifth-grade classroom is going to read at a proficient level, that's just not the case."
Slekar not only opted out his son from the PSSA, but he also founded a group – United Opt Out – that teaches parents nationwide how to exclude their children from standardized exams administered in their states. The group made a show of force this week by protesting in front of U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. and subsequently marching on to the White House.
If not everyone is showing up to march in Washington in frigid weather, the number of people who are opting their kids out of standardized tests is still growing. In Pennsylvania, more than one of five kids skipped the exams in reading and math between 2010 and 2012, while the number was higher than 35% in science. The data is courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
There could come a point where opt-outs have an unintended consequence: If fewer than 95 percent of students at a given school fail to take the PSSA tests, the school automatically fails to make adequately yearly progress, or AYP.
"It could skew the results" if enough students opted out," Lane said. "But that's not the parent's worry. Their job is to worry about their child — not the district, not the school."
Hempfield Area School District Superintendent Andy Leopold said the district has received one opt-out request this year.