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Parents Pressured to Rethink Opting Students Out of State Testing

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Parents who choose to refuse state-mandated assessments on behalf of their children complain that they face a myriad of pressures to keep their children in their seats on test day.

A story I wrote for Education Week this week examines how opting out is being touted as a viable alternative for parents by national anti-testing advocates, much to the dismay of those who strongly believe that assessments are valuable tools to evaluate student achievement and hold educators and schools accountable.

As the debate continues regarding the extent of parental rights to refuse the tests, parents are reportedly facing a variety of opting-out roadblocks.

Parent Lisa T. McElroy, an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, in Philadelphia, wrote an interesting piece for Slate, the online magazine, detailing how local schools administrators reacted to her decision to opt her two daughters out of testing in Colorado where she is currently working as a visiting professor at the University of Denver. One middle school assistant principal even ran after her in the parking lot seeking to change her mind.

While some school administrators are accommodating parents' wishes without incident, anti-testing advocates told me this month that parents' seeking to opt out have been told, among other things, that:

  • The student must stay home but could be considered truant,
  • Child protective services will be called if the student is consistently absent, and
  • Students who opt out must "sit and stare," meaning no reading, writing, etc., throughout the test-taking period. 

Jeannette Deutermann, a co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, told me that an Alabama parent sought help from the parent-advocacy group this month after her daughter, an honors student, was served with in-school and out-of-school suspensions for opting out.

Regardless, Tim Farley, principal of Ichabod Crane Middle School, in Valatie, N.Y., told me that many parents remain steadfast.

"I've heard parents say: 'Screw them. They're not going to have my kid,' " Farley told me in an interview.

Farley said that last year more than 200 students in grades 3-8 refused to take the state's tests in math and English language arts. He predicts that almost half of the students in grades 3-8 in this community, which is about 20 miles south of Albany, N.Y., will opt out of testing this year, including three of his own children. 

UPDATE: (March 14)

In Denver, a story in Chalkbeat Colorado reports that after a mother challenged the district's opt-out policies, school administrators there apologized for its treatment of the mother's daughter and also clarified its policies regarding how to handle students who refuse testing. According to the story, Susana Cordova, Denver Public Schools' chief academic officer, wrote in an email to the district's principals: "Students refusing to participate in testing should still be allowed access to all other non-assessment activities."

Other schools, however, may be using a kinder, gentler approach to keep students in their seats for testing. A letter from the principal of Bethel High School, in Bethel, Conn., tells parents that their 11th graders will receive community service credits and may be eligible to skip their final math and/or English exam (if they have at least a B average in the course) for taking the field test this month of the Smarter Balanced Assessment aligned to the common core. United Opt Out National's Peggy Robertson said her son's high school in Littleton, Colo., is promising credits toward graduation for its test-takers. See the post about that testing incentive here.

Wendy Lecker, a Stamford, Conn., parent of two school-age children and a senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center, based in Newark, N.J., said when parents aren't being "bullied" to take the test, their children are being "bribed" to sit for the assessment.

Lecker said in an interview that parents are wondering, "Why should I put my child through this if it's not going to help their learning?"

Still, a Chicago Tribune editorial urged those Chicago teachers and parents currently involved in a testing boycott to rethink their tactics. The newspaper's editorial accused the boycotting parents and teachers of using the city's children's as "pawns" and urged them to lobby for changes in state laws to address their testing concerns.

As the spring assessment season ramps up across the nation, I wonder how many more parents will refuse state-mandated tests or do what most parents have done faithfully for years: send their children to school and trust that teachers are educating them.


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