Education

Parents spurn standardized tests in small, growing trend

Parents cite student stress and the way teachers are evaluated as some reasons for the decision

The opt-out movement, as it is known, is small but growing.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

A small but growing number of parents nationwide are trying to ensure their children do not participate in state standardized testing, citing a myriad of reasons including the stress they believe it brings on young students and a discomfort with the tests being used to gauge teacher performance. Some have referred to it as an act of "civil disobedience" that is beginning to gain momentum. 

For many students, there have been few to no consequences when their parents have opted them out of testing. Most parents are choosing to take their younger children out of testing, rather than doing so with older students for whom the exams are often a graduation requirement. 

Another worry that parents say has prompted them to opt their children out of standardized tests is that test prep is narrowing curricula down to the minimum needed to pass an exam.

It is unclear whether things will change when the Common Core Curriculum – a state-led effort to set up a uniform set of educational standards for math, English and language arts – are implemented in the 2014-15 academic year. The curriculum also applies to the standardized tests students take based on what they learn. The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Common Core's website. 

Many teachers have also voiced opposition to standardized testing because they limit children's potential.

"I'm opposed to these tests because they narrow what education is supposed to be about and they lower kids' horizons," said Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at a Seattle high school. "I think collaboration, imagination, critical thinking skills are all left off these tests and can't be assessed by circling in A, B, C or D."

MORE: The Common Core divide

Seattle boycott

Students and teachers at the Seattle high school boycotted a standardized test earlier this year, leading the district superintendent to declare that city high schools have the choice to deem the test optional. 

Kristen Jaudon, a spokeswoman for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the test Seattle deemed optional is not required by the state. But 95 percent of students in any given school must take standardized tests that are required by state law.

In those cases, Jaudon said, the tests are simply "not optional."

Jaudon also said parents who pull their children out of testing wouldn't be able to identify if a student was having problems in a particular subject and the move would deny educators the chance to see if the curriculum is working.

Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District in Centennial, Colo., said 95 percent of students in the district take standardized tests. If a child stays home on testing day, she said, it's difficult to know if the parent is opting the child out or if the child is home for personal reasons, such as being sick.

"We encourage parents to have their kids take the test, but there are no consequences of any kind," she said. "There's no formal process for opting out. They can keep their child home that day and write an excuse." 

Momentum for 'revolt'

Morna McDermott, a Baltimore college professor who is a board member of United Opt Out, likens the battle against standardized testing to a fight for corporate reform.

"Ultimately this is an act of civil disobedience," McDermott said. "If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grassroots."

Darcie Cimarusti of Highland Park, N.J., didn't like that her twin daughters would have to agonize over a standardized test as first-graders so she worked out an agreement with the principal to move them into a kindergarten class during testing time.

"My goal is that my daughters never take a standardized test," Cimarusti said. "I see less and less value in it educationally and it being used more and more to beat teachers over the head."

Peggy Robertson, a teacher in Centennial, Colo., who is also an Opt Out board member, said she only expects the movement to grow.

"You can feel the momentum," she said. "I think we're headed for a full-on revolt next year." 

The Associated Press 

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