The new tests aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are coming to our district, namely–get this title–the Smarter Balanced Assessments. If only a name created reality. They should have been called Seven Hour Experiment in Collecting Student Data.
I haven’t received notification about the tests from my kids’ school yet, but since I’m a substitute in the district I got the testing information letter from the district superintendent. It’s a good letter, emphasizing that there has often been too much emphasis in our country and state on testing, that the tests are only one measure we use, and that our district vision for students is much broader and addresses the whole person. I heartily agree, and think our superintendent is right on. But he also is constrained to administer testing, because if we didn’t, as he says, “We would be at risk of breaking the law and losing millions of dollars of funding that is used to hire staff and support students.” And that really is the issue for us and so many other districts across the country that believe these assessments were shoved down our throats and are part of an inferior, corporate sponsored educational agenda that will hurt students. We need that money, and this is the hoop we have to jump to get it.
The letter includes FAQs, including what to do if parents ask about opting out. The superintendent advises teachers to “tell them [our district] is participating in the Smarter Balanced testing. And acknowledge that we may have parents who choose not to have their children participate. Also to say “that you understand that some parents are using refusal forms to apply political pressure to state and federal lawmakers. This isn’t likely to solve this issue, but some parents see it as a way to voice their opposition to lawmakers.” No link provided for opting out, but that’s easy enough to find online.
Here’s where the federal government tries to tighten its grip on families and schools: students who opt out of the test are recorded in district records as failed, though in student records the term is “not tested.” Schools with insufficient numbers of “proficient” scores lose federal funding. So the way I see it, it’s either cave in, or build a big enough and smart enough opt out movement that the results of the tests become meaningless as federal funding criteria, and the federal government realizes it has overstepped its bounds in bribing states to do things its way. This would also send a message to the corporations who profit from testing, grading, and creating curriculum, software, training, and even personnel that they promise will improve students’ test scores.
I printed off the opt out form and filled it out, ready to go to my sixth grade son’s teacher when the time gets nearer–I hope there’s a warning about when the tests will actually start, if it’s not anything actually scheduled on the online school calendar. Last year the high school did a switcheroo, telling parents their test was a certain day, then giving it a day early, which was not very honest, and came across to me at least as a tactic designed to catch kids who’d been planning to stay home. It wasn’t even a real test, though, only a practice, so I felt it was an extra big waste of time. My daughter happened to be sick that day anyway, so I didn’t have to make any particular statement on testing that year. I wasn’t really ready then, anyway.
On the line for my reason for opting out, I wrote, “I disagree with the process by which the CCSS and assessments were adopted and believe that they are inferior to previous Washington State standards. I am sufficiently aware of my son’s academic progress without these tests, and can obtain further details by communicating with his teachers or conducting informal assessments. I plan to engage my student in alternative education activities during testing times.” So no sending him to some boring study hall of shame if I can help it.
My eighth grader is another story. She likes tests and thinks they’ll help her know where she is academically. I gave her the choice, on the condition that she allow me to explain why I think she should not participate. She knows I’m concerned about the access to student data that testing companies and their affiliates will have, but I told her that the main reason is the undemocratic and borderline unconstitutional manner in which the CCSS and tests were foisted on school districts all across the country. I totally understand why she wants to go ahead, and know that at this point making a political statement is not her line.
When I filled in the opt out form, I felt like I was about to stick my neck out, and wondered if I had the courage to follow through. But the more I work at articulating my reasons, and synthesize my months of research into these matters, the more I feel that this kind of grassroots effort, preferably broad based and grounded on clear understandings and civil communication, is the most effective means of changing the Race to the Top educational funding criteria that takes away states’ flexibility in how they educate their young. Though I’m proud of teachers and administrators who have pushed back and refused to test or at least openly communicated reasons parents might opt out, I think the main responsibility lies with the families of students, who are the direct clients, who do not risk losing their jobs, and who are the only ones with the right to risk their children’s education, i.e. what that federal funding provides, to fight this battle.