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National PTA's New Stand on Opt-Outs Could Prove Timely This Testing Season

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Going into this spring's testing season, the National Parent Teacher Association is taking a stand on an issue that received a lot of attention from parents last year—the testing opt-out movement.

Plus, the group wanted to update its overall position statement on assessments because the last one was old: It was made in 1981. 

"It didn't reflect our current practices," said Laura Bay, president of the National PTA.

The PTA's board approved in January its position statement that is meant to be "holistic," also covering such topics as what grades should be tested and how tests should be aligned with state standards. Nationally, there are about 4 million PTA members.

The board intended for the statement to be used now and in the future, no matter what tests are in place. Still, the backdrop was the move from the federal No Child Left Behind Act to the Every Student Succeeds Act, with new accountability plans starting in the 2017-18 school year.

While the statement covers a lot of ground, the opt-out section has received more attention:

"National PTA does not support state and district policies that allow students to opt-out of state assessments that are designed to improve teaching and learning. While we recognize that parents are a child's first teacher and respect the rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, the association believes the consequences of nonparticipation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools," the statement reads.

Shannon Sevier, vice president for advocacy of the National PTA, even wrote a Feb. 29 piece for the Huffington Post about the opt-out position.

Bay said the PTA wanted to take a stand because opt outs received so much attention from parents, including some of its members, last year.

"Part of what PTA does and parents do is, we advocate for kids," Bay said. "We want to work together with the whole system to be at the table. And we felt that, when you opt out, you are not at the table anymore. You have ended that discussion."

This is a different position than opposition groups are continuing this year. Last month, United Opt Out held its national conference to figure out how to keep the momentum alive.

While complete opt-out numbers are hard to come by, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing estimates that parents refused to have 670,000 students take standardized tests last yearThe center, also known as FairTest, advocates to "end the misuses and flaws of testing practices" and has been active in resisting tests.

By far, New York had the most refusals—more than 200,000 students, or about one in five.

Bay said she has received a wide range of feedback on the statement—from it being too strong against opt outs to agreeing with it. Some thought the position pushed for too much testing. 

"We believe assessments need to have a purpose and let us know how our students are doing," Bay said. "If that isn't what our assessments are for, we need to talk about why they are doing them."

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Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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