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Opinion
Education Opinion

Should Parents Opt Out of Tests?

By Anthony Cody — April 13, 2009 1 min read
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And should teachers encourage them to do so?

Do you remember Carl Chew? He is a teacher in the state of Washington who became famous last Spring when he refused to administer the state achievement test (WASL) to his 6th grade students. Chew was suspended for two weeks as a result of his action. This week he turned the spotlight on efforts to get parents to “opt out” of the state test. He writes:

There is one powerful group in Washington though with a legal means to end the WASL and suffer no retribution, and that is parents. If even a third of the parents who say they are against high-stakes testing were to opt their children out of the WASL it would deal a statistical and thus mortal blow to the test. It is easy to opt out. Your children will go to school during the testing weeks, but miraculously go on learning instead of stressing out on confusing, unfair, and biased test booklets.

He refers parents to a website run by Mothers Against WASL.

He explained the reasons he refused to give the tests in an open letter last spring.

I performed this single act of civil disobedience based on personal moral and ethical grounds, as well as professional duty. I believe that the WASL is destructive to our children, teachers, schools, and parents.

Further:

Most, if not all, teachers will agree that assessment is vital. Wise teachers know that assessments which are also learning experiences for students and teachers are the best. The WASL categorically is not a learning experience.
I believe that individual students are entitled to their own learning plans, tailored to their own needs, strengths and interests. Teachers know it is definitely possible to do this in the context of a public school. The WASL categorically treats all children alike and requires that they each fit into the same precise mold, and state-mandated learning plans based on WASL scores fail to recognize individual strengths of students.
When I was a teacher at Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, a number of my students received their WASL scores to find that they had "failed". When I looked at the notices being sent to their parents I saw that each student had come to within just a few points of actually passing and that their scores were well within the gray area, or "margin of error," for the test. The "test scientists" aren't sure whether the student passed or failed, yet the school tells the student he or she failed. These students cried when they saw the results.
No one ever asked me or any of the teachers I know whether high-stakes testing was a good idea. In fact, we teachers are made to jump through seemingly endless hoops to prove our worthiness to be professional, certificated educators. Public school teachers are responsible for the educational lives of over a million students in Washington state, yet, in the end, no one actually wants to listen to what teachers have to say about what is best for the students in our care.

His recent message concludes:

I hope I have gained enough credibility by my thoughtful actions to have you consider this possibility. Teachers who refuse to give the WASL in Washington risk similar penalties as mine, and they will simply be replaced by a substitute to administer the test. Parents truly hold the winning cards here. Talk to your friends and forward this email to others who feel the same way as you do. You can start the ball rolling.

UPDATE: The National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom has passed a resolution calling for a boycott of the national tests.

Hazel Danson, of the NUT's executive which proposed the motion said that league tables are 'rigged' because they force schools to focus on borderline pupils who can push up their overall score.
She said: 'It's tantamount to government-funded cheating, and we can't be complicit in that anymore.'

What do you think of Carl Chew’s stance? Are there significant numbers of parents out there willing to opt out? Is this an effective or wise response for those unhappy with the emphasis on tests?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.