Opting Out of Testing: A Rising Tide for States and Districts?

By Catherine Gewertz — March 03, 2014 2 min read
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As states grapple with the huge task of building new testing regimens to reflect the common core, they are having to turn some of their attention to fending off a growing number of parents who want their children to skip the tests.

The latest bit of evidence suggesting this showed up yesterday in Massachusetts. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that some parents want their children to sit out the PARCC field tests, which are scheduled to begin next month. Some members of the local school committee think district policy permits such “opt outs,” but district leaders—and state officials—argue that it’s a no-choicer.

A legislative committee in Colorado has just been charged with the huge job of analyzing the state’s assessment system for a possible revamping. One of its tasks? Looking into parent opt-outs, according to Chalkbeat Colorado.

Just a couple of months ago, the school board in Albuquerque rejected a proposal—which had been unsurprisingly denounced by the state—that would have sent parents a letter outlining their “opt out” options.

These kinds of issues are cropping up more and more often. Late last month, my colleague Karla Reid at the K-12 Parents & the Public blog reported on the establishment of a new collective of groups dedicated to parent activism against high-stakes standardized testing.

One of those groups, United Opt Out National, offers resources like a “get tough guide” for parents to help them deal with school officials who try to resist their attempts to keep their kids out of testing.

The group’s opt-out guide for Massachusetts points out that the state has enforced testing participation with language about truancy, so it suggests sending children to school—but having them refusing to take the test—as a tactic to skirt this legal restriction.

FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, notes that the No Child Left Behind Act doesn’t allow or prohibit opting out of tests, but it does give states key motives to keep students from opting out: They have testing participation minimums to meet, and incentives to include especially those students who will perform well.

If parents are unhappy with the time testing robs from instruction, and the influence, writ large, of the testing industry on education, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they have some allies in local and state policy circles.

But it’s also true that despite the distorted emphases that No Child Left Behind has created, its disaggregated data shined a light on the way our schools have been ill-serving the neediest children. That value was something trumpeted in the staunchest corners of the civil rights community, by folks who had wanted for years to be able to demonstrate with data the shortcomings of the school system for poor children, for minority children, for those with special needs, and those learning English.

If the opt-out movement grows, there will undoubtedly be rising pressure, as well, to figure out other ways to keep that light shining to hold the system accountable for those who need its benefits the most. The question is: what will they be?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.