Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Every Public School Teacher Should Support Opting Out of Standardized Tests by Steven Singer

Over the last few years, educators and parents have built up a wall of opposition to high stakes testing in the Opt Out movement.

Not so long ago, tens of thousands of parents refused letting their children take the tests – with full support of their teachers.

Yet today you hear some educators question their involvement or even if they’re on the right side.

It’s almost like an anthropomorphic red pitcher smashed through the bricks and offered beat down educators a drink.


And far from refusing that rancid brew, some are actually gulping it down.


You hear things like these:

“Opt Out’s dead. Stealth assessment schemes like Personalized Learning and Competency Based Education have replaced the federally mandated tests.”


“The tests often take up fewer days now so there’s no reason to opt out.”


“The kids who opt out aren’t doing it for the right reasons. They just want to get out of work.”


Blargh! I can’t drink any more of that artificially flavored propaganda crap!

I’ve even heard of some teachers in New York State agreeing to call families who have refused testing in the past and asking them to reconsider!

What the heck!? Have we all lost our minds!?

We’re educators!

If anyone knows the problems with standardized testing, it’s us.

We know in intimate detail how these assessments are biased and unscientific.

So let me counter some of this dangerous disinformation going around.

1) You say the tests take up less time?

Marginally, yes. There are fewer test days.

But we’re still being pressured to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test just about every other day!

2) You say stealth testing has made the traditional standardized assessments irrelevant?

Okay. Competency Based Education is a real problem that threatens to make everyday test day – I’ll go with you there. In fact, schemes like Personalized Learning could transform every app into an opportunity to test kids without them even knowing it.

But that doesn’t mean the old fashioned high stakes tests have gone away!

Far from it. The federal government still requires all states to give these assessments to public school students in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Let’s say the feds required teachers to give rich kids higher grades than poor children.

Or say the state commanded teachers to copy down sensitive information about students and give it to private corporations.

Imagine if the school board instructed teachers to put minority kids in slower classes than white kids.

If any of that happened, there would be wide scale revolt!

Yet standardized tests do all of these things!

They dishonestly give higher scores to rich kids and lower scores to poor kids.

The apps used for preparation and remediation often steal student data and sell it to third parties.

They are used to justify increased segregation within school buildings because implicit testing bias means white kids generally score higher than children of color. So the white kids get more advanced courses and the brown ones get test prep.

3) You say the Opt Out kids are just trying to get out of doing work. It’s just laziness.

First, of all, it is the parents who are opting their children out of standardized testing – not the students. Second, who are you to question their motives?

These tests are used to justify unfairly evaluating YOUR work, narrowing YOURcurriculum, repealing YOUR union protections, reducing YOUR autonomy, cutting YOUR funding, and ultimately laying YOU off.

Why are you standing up for THAT?

So why are some teachers wavering in their opposition to high stakes tests?

I think it has to do with who we are.

Most teachers are rule followers at heart. When we were in school, we were the obedient students. We were the people-pleasers. We got good grades, kept our heads down and didn’t make waves.

But the qualities that often make for the highest grades don’t often translate into action. That, alone, should tell you something about the limits of assessment which are only exacerbated by standardized test scores. When it comes to complex concepts, it’s hard to assess and even harder to determine if success on assessments is a predictor of future success.

Bottom line: Every teacher should be in favor of the Opt Out movement.

And I don’t mean quietly, secretly in favor. I mean publicly, vocally in favor.

Many teachers are parents, themselves, with children in the districts where they teach. Every educator should opt out their own children from the tests.

Next, we should force our unions to do the things that we can’t as safely do as individuals.

Call parents and ask them to opt IN!? We should be doing just the opposite, but that would put a target on our backs.

As a teacher, I can’t unilaterally call or send a letter home to my students’ parents explaining why they should opt their kids out. If I did that, I could find myself in administration’s cross hairs and face grave repercussions.

But isn’t that why we have a union? To stand up as a collective and do the necessary things we can’t do as individuals?

Imagine if every teachers union in the country routinely sent open letters to all parents asking them to opt their kids out! What an impact that would make!

Imagine if the unions put pressure on the school boards to pass resolutions against testing and in favor of opt out! What effect would that have on state legislatures and the federal government?

How could the feds continue to demand we give high stakes tests when nearly every school board across the country objected and advised parents to refuse testing for their children?

Taken individually, these aren’t really all that difficult things to do.

They require a certain degree of moral courage, to be sure. And teachers have been beaten down by a society that devalues their work and begrudges them just about everything.

But what do we have to lose?

Our backs are already against the wall.

We are being slowly erased – our numbers dwindle more every year while policymakers shrug and point to a teacher shortage that they refuse to explain by reference to the way we’re treated.

The tech moguls and the testing giants are salivating over the prospect of replacing us with apps and low-skilled, low paid babysitters to oversee students hunched over computers and tablets. (See? Told you Personalized Learning was poison.)

It’s high time teachers get some backbone.

We may all end up on the unemployment line, but that’s where we’re headed already.

I’d rather go kicking and screaming.

Who’s with me?

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