With the arrival of spring comes the inevitable wave of standardized tests, as public school students across the country break out their number two pencils and spend hours of class time taking math and literacy assessments.
But a growing movement of principals, parents, and teachers is rising up against these exams. They claim that placing so much time and emphasis on high-stakes tests robs students of valuable learning time and unfairly tangles teachers' performance evaluations with meaningless test scores. The opt out movement is gaining momentum through written protests from districts and principals, through social media, including a Facebook group called Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing, which has more than 1,700 fans, and Occupy Protests at the Department of Education.
This vocal group is raising its voice at least partially in response to ten years of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that requires all public schools to administer standardized tests. Parents in the movement say teachers spend too much time teaching to the test while neglecting long-term projects or more creative learning strategies. They say the tests measure only what students know at a given time, not what we should be defining as "learning."
Each school, district, and state follows different policies for testing requirements, and it's not necessarily common knowledge to parents that they can choose to opt their children out of taking these tests. In some schools, assessments determine grade promotion, qualification for gifted and talented programs, teacher evaluations, and even funding. Schools are on the hook to test at least 95% of their students every year in order to be eligible for federal funds.
But awareness of opting out is growing in pockets around the country. In Texas, hundreds of school districts are signing on to a resolution against these tests. As of April 26, 412 districts representing more than 2 million students had signed on.
In New York this week, an open letter was distributed from 15 principals who describe the situation as a "nightmare."
"Our schools are faced with contradictory and incomplete directives regarding high-stakes testing and evaluation, our teachers are humiliated by the thought of publicized evaluation numbers and our students are stressed by the unnecessary testing that has consumed precious learning time," the letter says.
At Seattle Hill Elementary in Snohomish, a suburb of Seattle, the parents of at least 70 students have banded together to opt out of this year's Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) test given at the end of April. Protestors take issue with the costs of testing during a grave time of limited resources – $37.5 million annually in Washington State – along with serious questions about its efficacy. Kids take the test in the spring, but don’t get the results until next fall when they’ve moved on to another grade and teacher, making the results irrelevant.
Opt-out parents say that children’s learning can be judged more effectively through a portfolio, teacher's own evaluations of students, and class participation. Those methods are used in addition to the test in some schools, but the test is mandatory. School administrators find themselves at a loss for how to deal with the protesters since No Child Left Behind is still the prevailing law.
-With additional reporting by Katrina Schwartz