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National Opt-Out Advocacy Group Claims Website Was Hacked, 'Trashed'

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Administrators for United Opt Out National, an anti-testing advocacy group that has been gaining national attention for its efforts to assist parents navigate the standardized test-refusal process, are working feverishly this week to rebuild its website after discovering that it had been hacked.

Peggy Robertson, a United Opt Out National administrator, told me that the group discovered that its website had been tampered with on March 30, the final day of the organization's two-day conference in Denver. (Here's Chalkbeat Colorado's coverage of the conference.)

A statement from United Opt Out National says the website's database was "trashed," and further described the site as "frozen." The group's technical team added: "It is purely malicious, not a standard hack job..."

United Opt Out National isn't the only one fending off cyber strikes. Education Week's Benjamin Herold reported that the Kansas State Department of Education was forced to halt the administration of state exams Wednesday after its testing vendor was plagued by attacks from unidentified hackers.

Unitedoptout.com is a national online hub for parents and anti-testing advocates seeking detailed information and guidance to boycott state assessments. The site featured sample opt-out letters and a comprehensive state-by-state guide about refusing standardized assessments. In an Education Week story I wrote last month about opting out gaining popularity as a strategy to protest state tests, I reported that the group's organizers receive about 100 emails a day seeking help.

According to a statement from the group, United Opt Out National's administrators plan to file a criminal activity report about the tampered website with the FBI. The group's leaders believe the cyberattack serves as an endorsement of its work.

United Opt Out National issued the following statement: "It is clear that our efforts have gained the attention of corporate or political entities who feel threatened by the opt-out movement."

Meanwhile, reports about parents choosing to allow their children to skip state testing are grabbing headlines across the nation, especially in New York.

Newsday reports that more than 5,500 students in grades 3 through 8 in 41 districts in New York's Nassau and Suffolk counties declined to take the English/language arts test this week. The newspaper notes that the figure exceeds the statewide total of "not tested" students, according to estimates from the New York State Education Department.

The Buffalo News provided an overview of testing boycotts in Western New York schools and found that in one district, West Seneca, more than a fourth of its roughly 3,000 students in grades 3 through 8, did not take the reading tests this week. An unofficial count from opt-out parent advocates puts the statewide number of students refusing the test at 30,000, according to the newspaper.

But based on parents' comments, it's clear that the politics surrounding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards are muddying the anti-testing message.

"I'm not against testing," Amy Metzger, a parent from Niagara Wheatfield, N.Y., whose 4th- and 7th-graders skipped the tests, told the Buffalo News. "I'm not against challenging my kids. I'm against my kids being used as pawns in the state's reform."

Although, the rallying cry among standardized-testing supporters may be muted, they are managing to have their voices heard. The New York Times' opinion page featured an interesting opting-out debate, while Brett Peiser, the chief executive officer of Uncommon Schools, a charter network that manages schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, made a compelling case for testing and the common core in the New York Daily News.

"As schools, it is our responsibility to help [students] acquire the skills for success in college and beyond," Peiser wrote, "and the state exam is a powerful benchmark that helps us see how far along the path we are."

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