Opting Out of Testing

Back to April 2015 Ed Reporter

Opting Out of Testing

As the standardized testing season begins at public schools, districts are greeting them in a variety of ways. Some districts respect parental objections to Common Core testing and have made it easy for them to opt their children out of testing. In other areas, parents have been threatened in order to make their children participate.

No PARCC LearningIn Detroit, parents at an elementary school were sent a letter threatening to suspend students whose parents failed to attend meetings to prepare for “a big Common Core related standardized test.” (DailyCaller.com, 3-2-15)

Because of misinformation about Common Core, parents and the public are learning that they can’t trust what they’re told by the education establishment and media outlets. A recent article in the New York Times erroneously states: “The Common Core standards, a set of challenging learning goals designed to better prepare students for college, were developed by a coalition of states.” (3-2-15)

Common Core standards were not created by states, but instead by a group of non-educators, at the behest of two Washington, D.C. lobbying groups, which own the copyright on them. The standards are flawed and were never field tested.

The two main Common Core tests being given to students, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), were developed using a $345 million grant from the federal government. Once that money is used up, Common Core tests will cost states more than any previous standardized testing.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia will use either the PARCC or SBAC tests. (Education Week, 2-20-15) A few states will use American Institute for Research (AIR) tests, which were not developed with federal money but are similar to the others and are based on Common Core.

Getting Trained to Opt Out

In January, United Opt Out, a group concerned about over-testing of students, held a three-day conference in Florida aimed to help parents understand how they could prevent their children from coming under the pressure of taking these developmentally inappropriate standardized tests.

A leader of United Opt Out, who is also a parent and a former teacher says, “The testing crowds out anything meaningful.” Education Week reports that the Washington-based Center for American Progress found that “some students take as many as 20 standardized assessments per year.” (Education Week, 1-28-15)

One United Opt Out attendee described the anti-test movement, saying, “This is a [diverse] movement driven by grassroots activists in local communities.” Opposition to Common Core testing is coming from parents on the left and right of the political spectrum, from Democrat and Republican politicians, and from teachers unions opposed to tying testing to teacher evaluations.

Parents use opting out of testing as a way to remove their children from Common Core (CC) because it is the only option left to many. Most oppose CC standards, federally mandated data-mining of children’s personal information, and the loss of local control of education.

Suggested opt-out actions include having students begin the test but then refuse to answer any questions. Another strategy is to keep children home on test days, but that can result in truancy problems because testing goes on for so many days.

There are testing opt out organizations in at least 40 states.

One State Allowed to Experiment

In February, the U.S. Department of Education agreed to allow New Hampshire to pilot a program in four school districts that is a variation of what other districts must follow according to No Child Left Behind and Common Core mandates. The four districts in New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program will administer the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) Common Core tests once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. This means students will be tested in three grades, instead of in seven grades as in the rest of the state.

In years that students are allowed by the federal government to skip the SBAC tests, they will take “performance assessments” that are written by local teachers but approved by the state. The New Hampshire Dept. of Education says such assessments “are complex, multi-part tasks that ask students to apply what they have learned in sophisticated ways.”

Students in the pilot program will be given one annual task or project in each subject. According to the state Deputy Commissioner of Education, a math project could be to consider a community initiative, like building a park, and could include “writing letters to community leaders around what the costs would be, what the plusses and minuses would be of putting the project in place, and then doing an argument both for and against that project.”

Over a decade ago, New Hampshire began the process of “implementing a competency-based system — in which students advance based upon mastery, rather than seat time.” These “competency-based tests are a highly integrated part of learning and allow students to show what they know when they are ready to do so.” Leftist Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond has worked with the state on the switch to “demonstrations of proficiency.”

It remains to be seen whether the federal government will continue to allow New Hampshire’s plan for these four districts. In the meantime, “All other districts in New Hampshire remain obligated to follow traditional federal testing rules.” (NHPublicRadio.org, 3-5-15 and Education Next, 3-9-15)

Critics of the PACE program include those who question the efficacy of competency-based education (a new name for outcome-based education) and worry that some projects may tend to turn students into community organizers. Others are distraught that the federal government wields so much clout that only they can approve this small deviation from mandated testing.

So Much for State and Local Control

The Colorado Board of Education voted in January to allow school districts to skip portions of the state tests because they believed “two portions of the tests sound[ed] repetitive and could be unnecessary.”

But when the state attorney general reviewed federal laws, she found that the state board did not have the authority to give that option to districts.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s opinion stated: “Allowing school districts to forego administering portions of the test would mean the state is failing to meet state and federal requirements.” The attorney general wrote, “Statute mandates that as a PARCC member, the SBOE (State Board of Education) must rely upon assessments developed by PARCC.”

The attorney general found that the state board of education and the state Department of Education are powerless to change any aspect of English language arts or math testing. They are bound to do exactly what creators of the PARCC test demand “because its administration is governed — and the state is currently bound by — the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding with PARCC.”

The Colorado attorney general states that her ruling is “not intended to address how or whether Colorado should cease to be a member of the PARCC consortium.” She is only interpreting what Colorado must adhere to so long as it has a continuing relationship with PARCC.

That’s the truth about state-determined, voluntary participation in Common Core and its standardized testing mandates. Common Core was not created by states and continued participation is not voluntary. Neither is it desirable.

Saying “No!”

Parents have told their representatives, school boards, and state departments of education that they are opposed to Common Core and the testing it mandates, but in most cases they are being ignored or placated. For some, opting out of tests is the last line of resistance and the one thing they can control. They intend to protect their children by not allowing them to take the tests.

A New Jersey mother of two who has become an anti-test activist told the New York Times that her children won’t be taking the tests. She says, “I’m refusing because we’re taking a stand against this deeply flawed policy,” (3-2-15) After months of trying to make local officials understand why she opposes the tests and to convince those in charge to take action, Christine McGoey says that “they’re just not listening.” She says, “I feel like the only thing left to do is just say no.”