Standardized testing has become commonplace in schools across the country, but not everyone is a believer in the use of testing to evaluate school and student performance. This year, a number of schools across the country are seeing a higher-than-usual number of students opting out of the test protocol. One area that has been hit hard with opt-outs in recent weeks is New York City Public Schools. How will the higher number of opt-outs impact students who are choosing not to test and the schools where they are enrolled?
Some Students Say No to Tests
The Village Voice reports that test weeks this year are seeing fewer student participants in New York City. The publication cites reports of opt-outs at 22 schools throughout the boroughs, although the precise number of students opting out at each of the schools is still unknown. It does appear that 33 students at the city’s Earth School have submitted their intentions to opt out of testing, which would comprise a significant percentage of the student body at that small school.
Parents and students are complaining of excessive stress caused by the standardized tests. They are also questioning the use of valuable classroom time and resources to prepare for tests, rather than in quality instruction. Teachers are also joining the protest, stating use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools is inappropriate and inaccurate.
The opt-outs in New York follow a decision by teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, not to administer the tests to students this year. The lead organizer in the Seattle boycott, Jesse Hagopian, flew to New York recently to address the issue of standardized testing with a small crowd at Earth School. Hagopian told the parents, students and teachers assembled, “Their whole education reform system – all of it runs on these test scores! We’re denying them the lifeblood of their corporate reforms. These tests are not for their kids – these tests are for your kids.”
Hagopian referred to the fact that Bill Gates, a champion for education reform, attended a private school down the road from Garfield that does not administer standardized state testing.
More Rigorous Tests Bring Students to Tears
At the center of the test controversy in New York this year is the fact that the state switched to a more rigorous testing process to comply with the new guidelines of the Common Core Standards. The purpose of the Common Core Standards is to more accurately and adequately prepare students for the challenges of college coursework or a career path in the 21st century. According to the Times Record-Herald, that translates to harder questions students must answer in a shorter period of time.
Parents say that means more stress on students, who are also being tested on material they have not learned this year. The quick change to the new state tests has left schools without the time or resources to teach students all the test material prior to test dates. Parents are also protesting the addition of “dummy questions,” which are field questions that will be used to design future tests and will not be added to student scores. Parents are complaining they do not want their children used as test subjects to help test companies in the midst of their own testing process.
Who is Opting Out?
As parents become increasingly concerned about the mental and physical toll the testing process takes on their children, some are beginning to seek legal opt-outs as a means of protecting their children from the stress. The New York Times reports that schools throughout the five boroughs have seen students opt out of tests, although the numbers are much higher at some schools than others. Earth School has one of the highest opt-out rates in the city, with anywhere from 20 percent to one-third of students refusing to take the tests.
Schools outside the city district are seeing the trend widen to their locations as well. South Side Middle School in Rockville Center on Long Island saw about half of their eighth graders opt out, while around 55 of the 480 students at Linden Avenue Middle School in Hudson Valley opted out. Even the elite schools in the heart of the city have seen parents withdraw their children from the testing process this year.
Parents are telling the press that the stress of the examinations this year is making their children anxious and even sick. Some have reported that their children have been pushed to tears by the testing process. Others say their kids have begged them not to force them to go through the testing process.
The Consequences of Opt-Outs
While parents are discovering the opt-out as a way of saving their children from the stress and strain of standardized testing, there may be far-reaching consequences for their actions. Students who attend school on testing days will be required to sit quietly and wait for other students to take the examinations, according to a recent report at WHEC. Initial reports suggested that waiting students would not be allowed to engage in quiet activities during test time. However, the schools have stated they will allow students to read quietly in their seats during test time.
The consequences for the schools may not be so easy to overcome, however. Since test scores are now tied to funding for some school districts, fewer students taking the exams may mean fewer state and federal dollars coming in. By the test results are available this summer, some schools may realize the opt-outs will impact their budget’s bottom line.