Education Opinion

Opt In and Think of England

By Peter Greene — March 11, 2015 4 min read

As we enter testing opt-out season with its ever-increasing rising tide of test opposition, the fans of test-driven accountability have had to use every weapon in their arsenal to try to beat back the non-testing hordes who threaten modern educational progress (and corporate revenue streams).

Sometimes the infidels can be combated locally. The head of the Ken-Ton School Board, a district near Buffalo, NY, roused a bunch of local rabble by calling for New York to stop holding money hostage and demanding pointless testing for teacher evaluations and threatening that the district just wouldn’t give the tests. The superintendent was able to speak reason to the board by suggesting that the state might cut funding, defrock board members, and decertify teachers if such crazy talk led to crazy action. The motion was tabled until April.

Sometimes the big guns must be called out. Chicago Public Schools had threatened to give the Big Standardized Test to only 10% of their students. The feds told the state to tell CPS that they would take a gigantic financial hit, and the district reluctantly gave in, much to the disappointment of many who had backed the testing slowdown.

In recent days, test-o-philes have also unleashed the power of ridicule. Mike Thomas, over at reform-loving FEE, put up a blog post that artfully wrapped the technique known in the sales biz as “assuming the sale” in a carpet of wacky mockery.

“I Wish I Could Opt-Out of Writing This” makes the same old point-- some things in life are unpleasant but necessary, and whiners should just suck it up and do what they have to. In fact, oddly enough, Thomas suggests that he would rather not write this blog post in favor of testing, but he’s being paid to do it, so he must. Way to show your deep support of testing, Mike.

Thomas presents (and borrows from a Twitter thread that Amanda Ripley started in a similar vein) a list of unpleasant things that people have to do even though they don’t want to. The list includes colonoscopies, teeth cleanings, lice checks, braces, lockdown drills, and watching romantic comedies with your wife, and it’s a swell list. It’s just that the list has nothing to do with the Big Standardized Test.

The items on the list only occur when there is a particular reason for them. You get a colonoscopy when your doctor, a trained medical professional, says it’s time. You get braces when a trained professional says they’re needed. You go see a movie with your wife when she asks you to (though if that’s a chore for you, you have other problems). And like all the other items on the wacky list, these are annoyances you endure because you know there is some good reason to endure them.

The “well, you just have to suck it up and do some unpleasant but necessary things in life” argument assumes the sale. It focuses on the “unpleasant” rap on testing so that it can pretend that the “necessary” part is not in doubt. But of course it’s the notion that the Big Standardized Test is necessary that is at the heart of the opt-out movement.

Why are Big Standardized Tests necessary? BS Test fans have lost some of their classic arguments. For instance, they can no longer say that test results are needed to do national comparisons that run across state lines because the dream of a single national test is dead, dead, dead. VAM has been debunked far and wide. From the test quality to test validity to every justification given for testing-- as ESEA has heated up, they’ve all been subject to responsible, data-based, professional attack.

Writers like Thomas have been reduced to justifications like this:

And that’s why I’m an opt-in on testing. I want to know how well my kid is doing in algebra. I want to know how smart she is compared to all the other kids in the state. The same goes for reading, writing and science...This information will let me know if she is on track for being first in line when the University of Florida opens its doors to incoming freshman.

Is Thomas suggesting that all students everywhere should be tested so that he can brag about his own daughter? Or is he suggesting that his daughter’s teachers keep all her grades, school work and achievements a secret from him? And does he really mean to suggest that he’s an opt-in, because if that’s what he wants, I’m sure we can find support for a system where people can opt-in to testing if they wish, but would otherwise be in a no-testing default.

That system would have great support, but it’s not what Thomas and FEE and other reformsters and testing corporations want-- they want a system in which all students are compelled to test, not one where they have a choice (though oddly enough, they are huge fans of choice when it comes to charter schools).

Here’s the other thing about colonoscopies and braces-- the government doesn’t compel you to have them, whether your professional expert thinks you need one or not. You opt-in, voluntarily, weighing the advice of trained experts and the advantages of the procedure. You don’t need to come up with a justification for not having a root canal today-- you only have one if someone (or your tooth) presents a reason to opt in.

Reformsters would like us to skip all of that. Just take their word for it that tests are a necessary unpleasantry, like vaccination shots for babies or sex for Victorian ladies. Don’t ask why. Don’t question the necessity. Just lie back and think of England.

- See more at: //excelined.org/2015/03/09/wish-opt-writing/#sthash.oACr3jPH.dpuf

The opinions expressed in View From the Cheap Seats 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.

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