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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is Opting Out of State Assessments the Right Answer?

By Peter DeWitt — December 08, 2013 4 min read
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Perhaps it’s a growing movement or just the circles I find myself in these days, but opting out comes up more and more in conversations. School leaders are getting many questions from parents when it comes to opting out, and I think it is important to weed through the debate.

Due to the poor implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and tests that were aligned to them before teachers ever had the proper resources, New York State needs to be prepared for an explosion of opt outs. Let’s face it...state education leaders, not schools, are responsible for this explosion.

Recently Bob Aloise, the education coordinator for the New York State PTA gave a speech where he said that school may call Child Protective Services (CPS) on parents who opt their children out of state testing. You read more about it here. If leaders were not concerned about opting out, this never would have been brought up in Aloise’s speech.

Clearly, just like any organization that had to cancel forums across the state, the NYS PTA seems to be walking the party line when it comes to testing. Aloise made the CPS reference because some parents who opt out keep their children home from school during the testing period, and that could be considered an unexcused absence. Aloise said that he was just bringing it up as an option parents need to be aware of, but why bring it up at all?

Parents need to understand a couple of things when it comes to the myth of calling CPS. First of all, CPS probably would not take the call. Secondly, parents should know the school board policy regarding unexcused absences. Typically, if a school threatens a call to CPS, it is for seriously neglectful parents who have a child with 25 or more unexcused absences.

Unfortunately for Bob, and any other person who believes opting out means not coming to school, it is actually quite the contrary. Most parents who choose to opt their children out of state testing send their kids to school with a book. They tell their children to politely refuse the test and sit and read. It is a lesson in civil disobedience.

Politicians have threatened that if schools have less than a 95% participation rate, they could lose their Title 1 funding or Race to the Top money. It is a viable threat and many school leaders are scared. They don’t want to be responsible to the loss of anymore funding.

Unfortunately, schools do not control who opts out and it would be abusive to force a child to take a test their parents do not want them to take. It would also lead to a battle between parents and school leaders or teachers. Furthermore, would schools really want to force a child to take a test? I think the results could work against the school.

It’s strange to hear the threat of loss off funding considering so many schools have had millions of dollars cut from their budget. Many schools don’t get Title 1 funding because they do not have a high poverty rate, and those schools most likely didn’t get a lot of money from Race to the Top funding either. It makes you wonder where Race to the Top Funds really went?

The Opting Out Option

The reality is that, even with a strong opt-out movement, there will be many parents who do not want their children to opt out of state testing. There are parents who want their children to take the test. They believe the tests show what their children know, or they are too nervous that something terrible may happen to their child’s teacher and they do not want to suffer any repercussions.

The damage done to the teacher depends on the school leadership. A supportive school leader will try to find a way to support a teacher with multiple opt outs. An unsupportive leader will batter the teacher who has multiple opt outs. It’s sad that leaders, at the state and local level, have to threaten people who opt out. If their best defense is to threaten a call to CPS, perhaps the problem is with the test and not the people choosing to opt out.

Questions to Ponder

The Opt Out movement is growing across the country. It is one of the only ways parents feel they can voice their concerns about the increasing accountability in schools. It also provides a lesson in civil disobedience.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about what will happen to schools if they have a large percentage of kids who opt out. Will they lose funding? Will the teacher get penalized for having students who opt out? Perhaps the state education department will have to send proctors who force little children to take tests, because any teacher or school leader worth their weight in salt would never force a child to take a test.

Opting out is more complicated than some people may think. Perhaps not for the diehard opt outers but for the people on the fence. Parents, good parents who normally do not cause a stir, have already started meeting with school leaders to discuss their options. The following are some things to think about if you are considering opting out.

Which tests will your children refuse to take? All standardized tests? Or just the ones generated by the state education department? What will happen when it comes to Regents Exams or the SAT’s?

Will this be for just one year or all years? Standardized testing is very common these days, so begin thinking about how many years you will require your child to opt out.

Civil Disobedience - If your child is opting out of the test, please make sure they do not draw too much attention to themselves. There are parents who want their children to take the test, so they should be provided with a quiet atmosphere.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.