School Climate & Safety Opinion

Is the Opt-Out Movement in N.Y. at a Tipping Point?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 10, 2016 4 min read
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Spring testing season has arrived and, the tug of war about the tests continues. The charges made against the tests, in general, boil down to 6 essentials.

  1. The tests are not good measures what the students are learning.
  2. There are questions that are not understandable to the field.
  3. They take up time away from instruction.
  4. They are unfair measures for teacher and principals evaluation purposes.
  5. They do not reflect a complete picture of what students know and are able to do.
  6. The questions are not released even afterwards tests are administered so educators cannot develop keener understanding of the relationship between the questions and the students’ correct and incorrect answers.

New York’s Commissioner Elia Effects Changes
New York State is a hotbed of this resistance and opposition movement. With the former Commissioner of Education now in DC, recent appointee Commissioner Elia has begun a walk back from her predecessor’s agenda. She worked to find or develop better tests. She has effected a temporary uncoupling of student results and teacher and principal evaluations. For this year’s administration, tests are untimed and questions will be released at the close of the scoring window. In her brief tenure, she and the Regents have responded to the voices from the field and made strides to mitigate some of the resistance.

Opposition Continues
Opting out of the tests is a protest movement that is filled with active, attentive, caring parents and is supported by some educators themselves. Not only is the NYS Commissioner new to the role but the NYS Board of Regents also has a newly elected Chancellor. Alarming to us is that the new Chancellor Betty Rosa indicated in an interview that, if she were a parent, she would choose to “opt out at this point in time.” It is exemplary of the powerful forces that have rocked the state since Race to the Top (RTTT). Our concern is that policy makers need to know when to stoke the fires of opposition and dig in to find a resolution that isn’t just a backlash. We remember always that the children are in the middle.

Schools vary in their approach to students whose parents opt-out. Some send those children to a central location and have them read for the duration of the testing. Others require the students to take other types of tests, just not the state tests, during that time. Some have the students remain in the testing room with permission to read a book. Some parents choose to bring their students to school after the tests have been administered and others keep them home for the day(s) of the testing. There is no single answer. But, there are plenty of problems. Some of these alternatives extend the amount of time away from instruction. All of them separate children from each other and from their teachers. And, some of them impact school revenues.

What is the Lesson for the Children?
The rise of engaged parents wanting to become active participants in the education of their children is positive. We respect that. But, together we have placed the children in the middle of this debacle with consequences yet unknown. A parent sends in a letter that says he/she does not want their child to take the test. A school employee processes the letter. Notice goes to the teachers and the proctors. Students know they are not going to do what the rest of the students will be doing. Depending upon the protocol, the student feels separated from classmates to one degree or another. What is the lesson the children are learning? Is it our foundational treasured right to protest or is it about privilege and the lack of it?

And as the children watch, teachers, principals and parents navigate a policy none of them created. Is there a noticeable difference between those who are excused from taking the test and those who are not? Who is the student to follow or trust when parents are taking a stand against the actions of the adults in the school? How and what...are we teaching the children about what all this?

Follow the Leaders Who Listen and Lead the Change
All of this has caused stress for everyone and it isn’t good stress. In New York, signs of change signal hope and stir optimism for thoughtful, collaborative change. They are looking for better ways to consider student achievement as one of the many indicators of teacher success, have changed the tests to be untimed, and will release the questions to the field once tests are scored. All responses worthy of a response from the field and from the parents who have stood in opposition to the tests.

It is understandable that the outspoken who have forcefully called attention to these 6 serious policy flaws believe that loosening of the tension on the rope of controversy might allow temporary progress to slide backwards. We rely on the integrity of new administrations and new leaders at all levels to address these concerns by responding actively and thoroughly. Changes have taken place already. We applaud Commissioner Elia and others like her across the nation. And, we encourage the wisdom of leaders who will sustain the new parental activism and connect it to other ways of supporting children, educators and education.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.