Every Public School Teacher Should Support Opting Out of Standardized Tests



Over the last few years, educators and parents have built up a wall of opposition to high stakes testing in the Opt Out movement.


But now it seems some teachers are starting to tear it down.


Not so long ago, tens of thousands of parents refused letting their children take the tests – with full support of their teachers.


Yet today you hear some educators question their involvement or even if they’re on the right side.


It’s almost like an anthropomorphic red pitcher smashed through the bricks and offered beat down educators a drink.




And far from refusing that rancid brew, some are actually gulping it down.




You hear things like these:


“Opt Out’s dead. Stealth assessment schemes like Personalized Learning and Competency Based Education have replaced the federally mandated tests.”




“The tests often take up fewer days now so there’s no reason to opt out.”




“The kids who opt out aren’t doing it for the right reasons. They just want to get out of work.”




Blargh! I can’t drink any more of that artificially flavored propaganda crap!


I’ve even heard of some teachers in New York State agreeing to call families who have refused testing in the past and asking them to reconsider!


What the heck!? Have we all lost our minds!?


We’re educators!


If anyone knows the problems with standardized testing, it’s us.


We know in intimate detail how these assessments are biased and unscientific.


So let me counter some of this dangerous disinformation going around.


1) You say the tests take up less time?


Marginally, yes. There are fewer test days.


But we’re still being pressured to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test just about every other day!


2) You say stealth testing has made the traditional standardized assessments irrelevant?


Okay. Competency Based Education is a real problem that threatens to make everyday test day – I’ll go with you there. In fact, schemes like Personalized Learning could transform every app into an opportunity to test kids without them even knowing it.


But that doesn’t mean the old fashioned high stakes tests have gone away!


Far from it. The federal government still requires all states to give these assessments to public school students in grades 3-8 and once in high school.


Let’s say the feds required teachers to give rich kids higher grades than poor children.


Or say the state commanded teachers to copy down sensitive information about students and give it to private corporations.


Imagine if the school board instructed teachers to put minority kids in slower classes than white kids.


If any of that happened, there would be wide scale revolt!


Yet standardized tests do all of these things!


They dishonestly give higher scores to rich kids and lower scores to poor kids.


The apps used for preparation and remediation often steal student data and sell it to third parties.


They are used to justify increased segregation within school buildings because implicit testing bias means white kids generally score higher than children of color. So the white kids get more advanced courses and the brown ones get test prep.


3) You say the Opt Out kids are just trying to get out of doing work. It’s just laziness.


First, of all, it is the parents who are opting their children out of standardized testing – not the students. Second, who are you to question their motives?


We serve the parents and children of the community. If they say they don’t want their children tested in this way, we should listen to them.


Third, why are you defending these tests? They are used by charter and voucher schools as “proof” that the public schools are failing.


These tests are used to justify unfairly evaluating YOUR work, narrowing YOUR curriculum, repealing YOUR union protections, reducing YOUR autonomy, cutting YOUR funding, and ultimately laying YOU off.


Why are you standing up for THAT?


So why are some teachers wavering in their opposition to high stakes tests?


I think it has to do with who we are.


Most teachers are rule followers at heart. When we were in school, we were the obedient students. We were the people-pleasers. We got good grades, kept our heads down and didn’t make waves.


But the qualities that often make for the highest grades don’t often translate into action. That, alone, should tell you something about the limits of assessment which are only exacerbated by standardized test scores. When it comes to complex concepts, it’s hard to assess and even harder to determine if success on assessments is a predictor of future success.


Bottom line: Every teacher should be in favor of the Opt Out movement.


And I don’t mean quietly, secretly in favor. I mean publicly, vocally in favor.


Many teachers are parents, themselves, with children in the districts where they teach. Every educator should opt out their own children from the tests.


If we can’t at least do that and lead by example, what good are we?


Next, we should force our unions to do the things that we can’t as safely do as individuals.


Call parents and ask them to opt IN!? We should be doing just the opposite, but that would put a target on our backs.


As a teacher, I can’t unilaterally call or send a letter home to my students’ parents explaining why they should opt their kids out. If I did that, I could find myself in administration’s cross hairs and face grave repercussions.


But isn’t that why we have a union? To stand up as a collective and do the necessary things we can’t do as individuals?


Imagine if every teachers union in the country routinely sent open letters to all parents asking them to opt their kids out! What an impact that would make!


Imagine if the unions put pressure on the school boards to pass resolutions against testing and in favor of opt out! What effect would that have on state legislatures and the federal government?


How could the feds continue to demand we give high stakes tests when nearly every school board across the country objected and advised parents to refuse testing for their children?


Taken individually, these aren’t really all that difficult things to do.


They require a certain degree of moral courage, to be sure. And teachers have been beaten down by a society that devalues their work and begrudges them just about everything.


But what do we have to lose?


Our backs are already against the wall.


We are being slowly erased – our numbers dwindle more every year while policymakers shrug and point to a teacher shortage that they refuse to explain by reference to the way we’re treated.


The tech moguls and the testing giants are salivating over the prospect of replacing us with apps and low-skilled, low paid babysitters to oversee students hunched over computers and tablets. (See? Told you Personalized Learning was poison.)


We shouldn’t be helping them destroy our own profession by advocating for the same tests they’re using as a tool in our destruction.


It’s high time teachers get some backbone.


We may all end up on the unemployment line, but that’s where we’re headed already.


I’d rather go kicking and screaming.


Who’s with me?

27 thoughts on “Every Public School Teacher Should Support Opting Out of Standardized Tests

  1. OMG….I’m not a teacher and I would carry a sign and walk the picket line if the teachers in our area would revolt (MD). Instead, I’m made to feel like I’m crazy by my kid’s teachers. I’m “bad” because I REFUSE the tests for my children. I’m asked why and I give the reasons stated above and I’m told I’m wrong….by teachers. Teachers are like sheep being led to slaughter and they are just going along to go along….I don’t get it!!! Thank you! Maybe your colleagues will start to listen as the wildcat strikes across the nation continue.


    • As a parent, I appreciated having a second opinion about how my children’s education was progressing. It was especially helpful in understanding my middle child’s B- in pre-calculus class. Extremely high scores also helped convince the high school principal to be flexible with scheduling, allowing my middle child to take classes at the local university that overlapped with the school day.


  2. These mandated tests do nothing more than exploit children. The politicians are doing the bidding of lobbyists who work for the testing companies. They are ignorant and self-serving and know little or nothing about how children learn. Parents and teachers should all support the opt out movement. Billions of dollars are wasted on these tests that do NOTHING to improve education of children. We need to concentrate on the children and not concentrate on lining the pockets of politicians, lobbyists and testing companies.


    • I think the question here is if you think having a second opinion about your child’s learning is valuable or not. My understanding of the educational needs of several of my children have been helped by standardized test scores, so I think standardized test score have been important in improving the education my children have received.


      • Not quite, Teaching Economist. Standardized Testing is not just a “second opinion.” It is a biased second opinion. You want another measure that is biased in favor of your own particular children. Why is that necessary? As a parent, you (and I and all parents) are already biased in favor of our children. We don’t need a biased measure of their abilities to tell us they’re great. We already believe that. You’re just fooling yourself that the test scores are somehow objective and scientific. They’re not.


      • Steven,

        Your comment suggests that you think grades are not biased. That is untrue. Early on there appears to be a non-cognitive component to teacher assigned grades. As I pointed out in the previous thread, boys and girls score almost the same on the ACT, with boys as a group scoring higher in the math and natural science sections, girls scoring higher in the English and social science sections. Girls, however get uniformily higher grades in English, math, social science, and science classes.

        You are just fooling yourself if you think teacher assigned grades reflect how biddable a student is instead of cognitive achievement.


      • An edit: You are fooling yourself if you think teacher assigned grades do not reflect how biddable a student is in class and only reflects cognitive achievement.


      • Teaching Economist, in general there is no such thing as a bias free grade. We’re talking about humans evaluating other humans. It is you who is kidding himself if you think otherwise. However, a grade based on multiple data points over a long period of time taken from a variety of assessments (formative and summative) is much more valid than one based on one or two homogeneous ones. And if you add in a students grade over a series of years in a given subject (thus calculated by numerous teachers in the same discipline) you get an even less biased result. That is my point. Classroom grades are a much better indicator of learning and a predictor of future success than any standardized test score.


      • Steven,

        I agree that there is no such thing a bias free measure of cognitive performance. That is why I advocate using several of these measures to get a better picture of a students cognitive performance rather than looking at a single measure.

        My intuition is that repeated interaction with a student would increase the part of a grade that rewards students for being biddable and reduce the portion of the grade that comes from cognitive performance. A student that is not biddable will receive a lower grade from every teacher they encounter than a more biddable student who achieves the same cognitive growth. Averaging over these biased grades does not reduce this bias because all the grades have the same bias. Combining grades with information from standardized test scores can, however, reduce the bias because standardized test scores have a minimal biddability component to the assessment.


      • How do standardized assessments require less obedience than classwork? You’re given directions and have to follow them to the letter. In fact, you have to follow them the way the test designers predict. It has nothing to do with biddability. It has to do with meeting an arbitrary standard of wealth, race and class. That’s not a necessary or laudable component of assessment.


      • A standardized exam does require you to follow directions to the letter for a few hours. Teacher assigned grades require you to follow the teachers directions to the letter for day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.


      • That kind of makes my point, Teaching Economist – both kinds of assessment require rule following during the duration of the assessment. If you’re implying that the classroom environment requires a greater degree of rule following because it takes place over a greater time period, you haven’t provided enough evidence. Moreover, the kind of rule following is important. Standardized assessments require the test taker to follow written instructions (though they may be verbalized by the proctor). In the classroom, the authority giving the instructions is present and is required to tailor the rules to the student. There is give and take. It is a human interaction. Thus it lends any assessments during this time a greater degree of accuracy.


      • Steven,

        I had thought that it was self evident that following rules for months at a time would make following the rules more important than having to follow rules for an afternoon, but perhaps we have different intuitions about this. What kind of evidence would you accept as convincing that being biddable has a larger impact on a student’s grade in a class than it has on a student’s standardized test score?

        Your second point, that following rules has a value, is no doubt true, but breaking rules also has a value. Teacher assigned grades, however, value the former and penalize the latter. If a student finds the assigned homework useless and does not do it because they have already mastered the skill the homework was meant to enhance, the teacher assigned grade is lowered. If the student can do a calculation in their head and writes the answer when the assignment says to show their work, the grade is lowered. If the student uses a methodology different from what is taught or writes an extra sentence in the paragraph because that was required to express the idea, the teacher assigned grade is lowered. The standardized test does not care that a student used modular arithmetic to find the right answer. Just be sure never to use modular arithmetic in your teacher assigned homework.

        Finally, I am trying to understand exactly what you mean by your third point, that you tailor the rules to the individual student. The less charitable interpretation, to my mind at least, is that each student’s grade is determined by standards that are unique to a student. Susan might get a B because the expectation was that student would do excellent work and did not while Helen might get an A because here work was very good for a student that is functionally illiterate. The more charitable, and I think likely correct, interpretation, is that teachers will offer an incentive to a student who was not biddable to become biddable. “Yes, you did not turn in the last homework assignments on time, but if you do it now I will accept it for X credit. Not turning in your homework will lower your grade despite your high exam scores.” Is the latter your practice?


      • Teaching economist, that you have no idea how things work in a public school classroom between teachers and students does not surprise me.That you are equally clueless about Common Core testing is somewhat startling. Teachers do NOT require students to do things one way and only one way. They can communicate with students and find the best way for that individual child. We are encouraged – no, mandated – to seek each child’s individual learning style. Every day we individualize our instruction for all 20 plus kids in the room.

        However, the standardized test does not do this. It can’t do this. It DOES require students to answer a question one way and only one way. Test takers are no longer required just to get the right answer (when there is even only one right answer), They are required to show how they got it and to get it in the proper way being asked for.

        If this is confusing to you, look up individualized learning and look up some examples from modern day Common Core aligned tests. May I suggest the Keystone and the PSSA, since those are the ones I know best.


  3. Teachingeconomist likes to hit several blogs to troll. He loves to debate the value of the standardized tests, especially. People who love the tests are always the ones thinking they and their children are better, smarter, wealthier, happier etc etc. Libertarians only looking out for themselves and those like them. You will NEVER be able to convince him (and his ilk) otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa,

      Just to let you know, I am not a libertarian. I regularly teach a class that is devoted to all the ways a decentralized market fails and how governments can repair the damage markets cause.

      I would not say that I love standardized tests, rather that I find the useful both as a parent and as someone making decisions on admission to graduate school. As a parent of three boys, I have noted that boys, on average, score higher on the math and science sections of the ACT exam and girls score higher on the English and social science portion of the exam. The overall ACT scores of girls and boys are very similar. Girls, however, get higher teacher assigned grades in all subjects. Some might take this evidence that standardized tests are biased against girls because, based on their grades in the subjects, girls should have higher standardized test scores than boys in all subjects, presumably with an even bigger gap in English and social science than with the current exams. I take this to be evidence that teacher assigned grades penalize boys, in general, for being less biddable. What do you think?

      I also find standardized test scores useful in making admission decisions to graduate programs at my university. A little background might be useful here. Graduate study in economics involves a great deal of math. If a student is unskilled at mathematics, it is likely that they will not succeed in the program and admitting them would waste their time and their money. One of the admission files I reviewed was of a student who was an economics major with a high GPA and enthusiastic recommendation letters. So far, so good. This student, however, had taken no mathematics courses in college and was planning to take a first semester calculus course in the summer before beginning the graduate economics class. Just because a student has not taken mathematics in college does not mean that they can not do mathematics in college so working hard that student might well succeed in the graduate program. I also had one more piece of information: the student’s score on the quantitative section of the GRE. In this case, the score was the deciding factor. What decision do you think I should make without knowing the score?


  4. It’s that time again! Me pulling my hair and being extremely anxious about this damn STAAR test!! Should I Opt out? Can I? WIll opting out affect my child? Should I just homeschool my child? I want her to be taught by certified teachers but it feels like in Texas Its all about the damn STAAR!! My child has 2 periods of math and English. An additional period for writing and another additional period for Math lab (tutoring). My child enjoys the arts but because she didnt do well on her StAAR test the previous year she is required to do tutoring. She has no time for extracurricular classes because she has to pass her test!!!! She does well during the school year. But I think she is burnt out! 5 grade is the year which the scores are used for promotion to 6!! I try my best not to show how I’m feeling in front of my Child!!! She has enough stress being in classes all day with a 45 minute lunch and sometimes no outside play! Every year since being in Texas I have contemplated opting her out but like every year I get scared of what might happen to her. That’s just fucking ridiculous that this is what it has come to! Teachers don’t encourage opting out in fear of being reprimanded and most parents just go with the flow. They have that It is what it is Mentality! She has a bright future ahead of her and I try to remind her of that. We don’t talk about the test at home we just tell her To try her best! it’s just sad that so much focus is placed on these tests! It is sickening That elementary students feel the level of anxiety a high schooler feels taking their SAT or college graduate taking their licensing exam!!! The test starts tomorrow and all schools Will be in “prison” mode for hours! And all I feel I can do is wish every child good luck and Sincere apologies from all the parents like me who are just too scared to stand up and fight against the district and big testing corps! I’m sorry that this is what your public education has come to! Im sorry that the ones who are in charge of your education value a test score more that you! I’m sorry that they try to scare us into believing if we don’t obey their bias rules we will all be reprimanded! I’m sorry that you have to put your other talents aside to focus on these tests! I’m sorry!


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