Opting Out Highlights Parent Power to Influence Education Policy

By Karla Scoon Reid — June 10, 2015 3 min read
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Nationally, the opt-out movement has steadily been gaining supporters among parents, teachers, and community leaders.

So understanding why parents choose to refuse to allow their children to take standardized tests and the potential influence their decision to opt out could have on national and state education policy is worth a deeper look. Education Week published a variety of thoughtful perspectives on opting out this week that will undoubtedly trigger debates about the role standardized testing plays in ensuring children receive quality schooling. The following comments represent a few opt-out perspectives worth pondering from “Inside Opt-Out: The Pushback Against Testing.”

• "...[S]tudents of color are susceptible to all of the negative effects of the annual assessments, without any of the positive supports to address the learning gaps. When testing is used merely to measure and document inequities in outcomes, without providing necessary supports, parents have a right to demand more.”

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project; John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education; and Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew professor of education at New York University.

• “I felt I did well in school regardless of the testing. At the time, my teachers seemed fine with it. I went on to work hard in high school, and I always felt that what I enjoyed and excelled in was rich curriculum like world history projects, reading books, and writing essays—things I got really engaged in and that had a lot of meaning. All that is what eventually mattered in college—deeper connective thinking.”

—Teddi Hamel, an outdoor educator with Outward Bound. Hamel’s parents, Fred L. Hamel, an education professor at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Wash., and Catherine Ross Hamel, a public school speech-language pathologist, opted out of state-mandated testing for their two children from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s.

• "...[I]t is imperative that policymakers understand the potential impact of opt-outs as they continue to craft legislation—in particular, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law currently known as NCLB—that could attach even more incentives and sanctions to school performance.”

—Jessica K. Beaver, a research associate, and Lucas Westmaas, a research analyst, at Research for Action, an independent, nonprofit education policy and research organization, in Philadelphia. Their research found that even small numbers of students opting out could affect a school’s accountability rating.

• “This power of parents to question the changing direction of school reform and to address the diminished sense of cohesion and effectiveness in our public school communities—in effect, the ability of parents and students to vote with their feet and walk out of the testing site—is what education policymakers must now heed.”

—Rebecca Page Johnson, an assistant professor of education and a teacher-educator at Elmira College, in New York.

• “The opt-out movement is evidence that education policymakers need to find new ways to engage with families and communities. Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions about who these parent activists are, or what they believe, we should begin by slowing down and listening to what they have to say. Working with the public is the only true way to create sustainable educational change.”

—Michael P. Evans, an associate professor of family, school, and community connections, and Andrew Saultz, an assistant professor of educational leadership, at Miami University in Ohio.

Join Education Week for the “Inside the Opt-Out Movement” webinar on June 17 at 2 p.m. ET. Register now.

Read more reactions to the opt-out movement on Storify.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.