This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars. Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.
In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.
The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.
… the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.
While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.
No one opt outs of the bar exam.
The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,
For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.
Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.
Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.
The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.
For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.
Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.
Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.
On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,
Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …
…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.
The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.
With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?
Who are the opt outs?
The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.
What triggered the opt out wave?
The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates. 2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.
Why the passion and the anger?
An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children. I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged. The pent-up anger exploded.
Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?
How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?
The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.
So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.
Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away? Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?
The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.