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Teachers Have No Voice or Choice in Testing, So Why Would They Support It?

This is the fourth of a four-part conversation on the opt-out movement.

Deb McCarthy

As a 5th grade teacher whose students recently completed 11 days of grueling, federally mandated high-stakes testing, I find that the opt-out movement offers the hope of returning to more student-centered, differentiated instruction that is multidisciplinary in content as well as motivating, engaging and enriching.

Increasingly, parents across the country are coming to understand that the emphasis on standardized testing has drastically changed public schools, and not for the better. As more parents decide to opt out their children from high-stakes standardized tests, more educators grow empowered to reclaim public education from those who would reduce a student's learning experience to a test score.

For me, prepping students for standardized tests began in earnest in January. By March, my elementary school was transformed into a bureaucracy whose focus was on testing schedules, testing compliance and testing security norms. It became a school with no semblance of order or routine. My school became a testing center.

Those who were hired to provide support for students on individualized education plans were pulled from servicing their students and instead told to focus on providing test accommodations. It is incomprehensible and unacceptable to deny students the supports and interventions they need just to facilitate the gathering of data whose value many educators question. It is excruciating and inhumane to enforce the testing mandates and their associated minutiae at the expense of teaching to the whole child.  

Instead of experiencing joy and hope, my students expressed performance anxiety, fear of failure, and an overwhelming sense of resentment and anger at being asked to complete tasks that I knew to be developmentally inappropriate and educationally unsound. When my students challenged the expectations of the curriculum and expressed angst over the demands, I was not allowed to talk about Common Core lessons or their associated PARCC exams. I had no academic freedom to challenge the worth of the test; I had no voice in creating the test and no choice about offering it; and I could not look at the test questions or in any way assist my students.

Public school educators have knowledge and expertise that should be welcomed into policy debates; they should not be closed out of them.

I was no longer a teacher, but instead a proctor for the Pearson testing conglomerate. I do not accept that fate, nor do many of my colleagues in Massachusetts. First, we successfully challenged the legality of the "security agreement" Pearson had asked educators to sign, and which threatened job actions against those who did not. More recently, delegates attending the 2015 Massachusetts Teachers Association Annual Meeting approved an opt-out measure that I helped introduce. The language MTA members adopted lets educators and parents openly discuss the issues surrounding standardized testing and speaks to ensuring that parents, students, schools and educators not face punitive actions related to opt-out decisions.

For this educator, the opt-out movement is about freedom. It provides parents and students freedom of educational choice. It will help educators regain academic freedom and protect their freedom to speak openly about what is going on in the classroom.

The opt-out movement provides an opportunity for educators and parents to unite around the best interests of the children attending public schools.

Deb McCarthy has been teaching for 20 years and is currently a 5th grade teacher at Lillian M. Jacobs School in Hull, Mass. She is a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Read more from this roundtable discussion on the opt-out movement.

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