What Testing & the Opt-Out Movement Mean for School Excellence
Since the Common Core Standards were adopted in 2009, there has been disagreement and dissatisfaction with its implementation from different stakeholder groups—whether it is teachers complaining about the new curriculum and the testing associated with it, the parents concerned about the stress levels and challenging expectations of the new tests, or schools concerned with the scores on the new tests.
Sergiovanni would argue that the value of excellence is challenged with this issue and comes into conflict with equity. Kingdon would say that conflict would create an opportunity to set an agenda in terms of changing the way we think about assessment considering what has happened since the adoption.
The first few years were riddled with confusion about the tests and poor training on the new content. My school was a part of a pilot program to implement the standards. The early curriculum changes were adopted and we were never adequately changed. Instead, each classroom received a copy of a standards poster that was to hang in the room and the additional testing was added throughout the year.
Because we were a city school, there were few parents who complained about the changes and we moved on full-speed ahead. The school sold the changes to the community as a shift toward more excellence and the community ate it up. Because of the socio-economic status of our community, the majority of our students did okay the first year of the testing, particularly in the middle school, but it was another story altogether in the high school.
In my son's school on Long Island, something different was happening altogether. From the get-go, parents weren't happy with the changes in the curriculum and were even less pleased with the increase in standardized testing. Students were stressed from a much earlier age and teachers were threatened because the tests were playing a role in their evaluation. The politics of the test was changing the community.
Parents were saying that the tests weren't fair to students or teachers and equity showed itself as a competitor for the core value of excellence. So much so, that parents on Long Island decided to exercise their rights and opt their children out of taking the exams. Last year in 2017, my son's class had an opt-out rate of nearly 68 percent. My son was in the auditorium with most of his classmates, unable to do anything but sit quietly so that the students taking the exam didn't miss out on any learning.
So the problem shows itself in this nexus: the state adopted the Common Core, the implementation is poorly rolled out, testing is directly tied to student excellence and teacher evaluation. People are upset. The teachers union fought back about accountability and the parent organizations were unhappy with the stress students were under. Schools even provided misinformation about what would happen if students opted out.
According to NYSUT's website,
"Parents and teachers share deep concerns about the standardized tests used by New York state for accountability purposes. Those include: stress on students, in-appropriateness and lack of validity of the Common Core-aligned tests, loss of learning time, misuse of tests for high-stakes decisions, erosion of local control over school decisions and lack of transparency on state test content. Parents who decide it is not in their children's best interests to take these assessments are part of an "Opt-Out" movement that is growing nationally and in New York state. Despite recent changes that eliminate certain consequences of the state tests for students and teachers, the tests will still be administered and used for "advisory" purposes. NYSUT fully supports parents' right to choose what is best for their children—including NYSUT members who decide as parents to opt their child out of state tests.
Some school districts have provided parents with inaccurate information on the consequences of opting out. This NYSUT Fact Sheet attempts to clear up the misinformation by reviewing the federal requirements for participation in the state assessments and potential consequences of opting-out for districts, students and teachers."
Kingdon would call this the focusing event. He says "conditions must deteriorate to crisis proportions before the subject achieves enough visibility to become an active agenda item" (Kingdon 95). The outrage about the testing created the right conditions for change to occur. Parents began to petition New York State to change the testing and the teachers' union complained about accountability. And now, in 2018, the new standards are being introduced and the tests are changing.
As I continue to dive deeper into my leadership learning, it baffles me how certain constructs and systemic issues plague the everyday focus of what school needs to be about: the students. No amount of testing is going to show the full scope of what students know and can do or how well teachers are able to educate them. We all need to work together to shift this paradigm because it isn't working.
What can we do as educators to change the testing culture education has become? Please share.
Kingdon, J. W., & Thurber, J. A. (2011). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies:(2nd ed.). Boston, Mass.: Pearson, Longman.
NYSUT Research and Educational Services (Ed.). (2017, March 13). Fact Sheet 15-01: Opting Out of State Tests. Retrieved February 25, 2018, from https://www.nysut.org/resources/all-listing/2015/january/fact-sheet-on-opting-out-of-state-tests
Sergiovanni, T. J. (2009). Educational governance and administration(6th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn.