The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

How Do We End the Testing Mania and its Bad Effects?

on June 23, 2016

By now two things about high-stakes testing in our public schools seem clear: officials at the national and state level are not going to end it any time soon, but parents have the power to reduce the negative effects of testing within school districts by opting-out their children.

Today’s post, written by Jaime Franchi and posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog, tells of what parents in Long Island, New York accomplished when they worked together and got some like-minded people elected to local school boards.  

One of the hotbeds of opt out in New York was centered on Long Island, which consists of Nassau County and Suffolk County. Fully half of the students eligible for state tests did not take the tests.

A year ago, parents were battling a combative Governor Cuomo, facing a hostile State Education Department, and rallying against Common Core. But what a difference a year makes. Now the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, is an experienced educator who is sympathetic to the parents who opt out.

And the movement has larger goals:

The struggle came to a head during this spring’s testing season, culminating in a giant win for Long Island Opt-Out, a parent-led group that organized an historic number of test-refusals this year with almost 100,000 students—more than half of the student population in Nassau and Suffolk counties—opting out of state tests. Their message has been effective: No more Common Core. Despite incremental fixes promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his so-called “Common Core Task Force,” they are still demanding concrete changes.

Yet, it remains to be seen how this evolving protest movement will improve or replace the current education agenda.

According to local public education advocates, the answer is multi-tiered. It includes elections: first at the state level and then at the local school board in an effort to tackle education policy from all sides. The goal is a shift away from schools’ increasing test-prep focus almost exclusively on math and reading skills—eschewing the arts and play-based learning—to a comprehensive curriculum that addresses what some advocates call the “whole child.”

The opt out leaders have been shrewd. They have elected nearly 100 of their members to local school boards. They threw their support behind a candidate for the State Senate and he eked out a narrow victory. They regularly schedule meetings with their representatives in Albany.

Opt out leaders want a sweeping change in education policy, from scripted lessons and high-stakes testing to child-centered classrooms, where children are really put first, not test scores.

In Oregon, my state, the movement to opt kids out of tests is slowly gaining traction.  As might be expected, it is more popular in cities and wealthier communities than in rural and high-poverty places. Many parents are afraid that their children will be punished if they don’t take the tests or that their schools will lose funding. Others still believe there are benefits in the data that show scores for all schools and in holding teachers accountable for students’ poor performance. What we and other states need is more people working together and a wider dissemination of the negative side of the testing story. I’d like very much to hear from readers about what is is happening where they live, especially if parents have been successful in forwarding the opt-out movement.

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