Opting Out or Civil Disobedience

I am going to throw in my two cents on the issue of opting out.  Not because I believe in standardize tests or their questionable results.  I was torn because in the past, if a parent mentioned opting out, I though it could create an adversarial relationship between the parent and the school, often putting the student in the middle.  I swore I would never consider opt my daughter out because I didn’t want her teachers and schools to look bad or suffer any consequences.  I wasn’t ready to participate in a little civil disobedience.

But, I am no longer torn.  Before I can tell you why, I need to say a few things about testing.

High stakes testing is wrong.  Period.

No reliable research has ever shown that using test scores of students to evaluate teachers improves any aspect of public education.  If I am wrong and you can provide that research for me, please email me. I would love to read it.   Same with A/F grades, despite what our Superintendent tries to tell us, it is NOT working in Florida.

There is no reliable research that has shown that withholding a High School diploma from a Senior because he or she didn’t pass the right number of tests has done anything to improve that student’s motivation, self-worth, or future.   (We could argue all day about the idea that all student need to go straight to college or what we can do to ensure that those students who go to college are prepared… but that is a whole different issue…)

There is no meaningful or reliable research that shows anything beneficial about giving a standardized test in Language Arts to an 8-year-old and using the result to decide their placement for the next year.  Teachers who are on the front lines know this.  Reading specialists understand the danger.  Unfortunately, our State Superintendent doesn’t seem to understand the ramifications of the reform she has so stubbornly supported.  In fact, she has made the claim that it worked in Florida, but as Rob Miller so eloquently reminded us, those results are inflated and out of context.

Even worse is the plan to use that 8-year-old’s score on that Language Arts test without taking into account the countless data points (formal and informal) that highly qualified teachers have been collecting and observing for over three years.  And worse still is the plan to make that decision without allowing the parent to have the final say, or even an opinion, when they have most likely worked with teacher to whatever extent is possible, since their child was in kindergarten.

Sure, we have 6 Good Clause exceptions.  And there is a portfolio option (with little guidance about what they needs to look like or what students to keep it on or when they should start collecting artifacts…).  But let’s be honest, it’s still all about that test.  It’s about the test that every 5, 6, 7 and 8 year old in our state will soon be stressed over.  It’s about the test that will determine up to 50% of a school’s report card grade (if a school only goes up to third grade, like this one, the grade is based completely on the two 3rd Grade OCCT tests).

Back to opting out.  Like I mention earlier, until a few months ago, I would have been hesitant to opt out my daughter or to encourage other parents to pursue an way to opt their children out of tests.  I have worked at the state department and served on test committees and I understand that the data from the tests is important.  Like it or not, in order for the psychometrician to help make the test as valid as possible, they need kids to take the test.  If we have to have tests, I would have argued that we could at least have valid ones.  And, like it or not, that data is used to measure the effectiveness of our teachers and schools.

Then I heard about “A”.  “A” is a second grader in Moore.  “A” can read the early Harry Potter books.  He loves to read whatever he can get his hands on and is interested in.  He also happens to be good at math and science, as well as recently being the MVP in the inaugural season of the imaginary football league his friends and he created to play during recess.   Because when your teachers don’t let you play tackle or touch football at research, you just play the game with an imaginary ball.

No teacher would ever think to keep a portfolio of work on “A” or be thinking ahead to which good clause exception might save him.  And “A”’s mother, a teacher herself, had no reason to worry about him passing his third grade test…until this bright, energetic, creative, independent reader and second grader told his mom that he was worried about passing that reading test next year and not going to fourth grade.  Why does a second grader even know that this is a possibility.

This is why I am now in favor of parents having the option of opting their children out of tests.  Because no child should be that stressed over a test.  Ever.

No second grader should be stressed out about a test that is over a year away.   If “A” had not said something to his mom about being worried about it, he could have spent the next 18 months letting internalizing that worry, letting it simmer and grow, eating away at his confidence.   How many of our 5, 6, 7 and 8 year olds are internalizing the stress of their teachers and parents over a 50-question Language Arts test.  How many third graders will sit down to the test in April, the only thought in their head “If I don’t pass this test, I don’t get to go to fourth grade.”  How many students will be so worried about pleasing their teacher or their parent that they freeze up on test day?  And how well do you think those students are going to do… regardless of what reading level their DIBBELs and STAR tests say they are on?

How can we do that to our kids?  And for what reason?  I dare you to give me a good, research based reason.

The SDE is threatening reminding districts that if more than 10% of their students have no score, the school and district will automatically receive an F on their report card.   Let me put some context on that 10%.  If a grade has 60 students, it would take 7 kids “opting out” or not testing to earn that school an F.   For a larger school with 120 students, 13 missing scores would earn them an F.  In a smaller school, maybe with 13 or 14 students per grade level, it would take 2 students.  TWO.  No wonder schools have been adversarial when students try to opt out their students.

Our state superintendent doesn’t seem to like to talk with the liberal education establishment.  She doesn’t like to talk with OEA.  On twitter and Facebook, she is condescending and deflects real questions with vague responses.  She holds press conferences and invites the public, but then refuses to take questions from anyone accept the press.

If she doesn’t listen to the educational experts, maybe she will listen to parents, who are the experts on the most important part of this equation:  their kids.   I honestly believe that parents are the key to slowing down the educational reforms that are chocking our schools.

How crazy would it be if every school across the state had 11% of their students opt out, results in every district in the state getting an F.   I would love to see the spin on that story.  Maybe the grades would be released on time without being changed 27 times.  And as an added bonus, maybe the general public and our elected officials would fully understand how meaningless the A/F grades are.

I know that sounds like crazy talk, an extreme measure.  As a parent, I wonder if we are at the point that we need parents doing something extreme, something that is completely in the best interest of their children, in order to make our elected officials realize that High Stakes testing (RSA, TLE, A/F, ACE) is not what is needed or what is best for Oklahoma.

A little disclaimer: I am not going to organize a massive opt out across the state and all opinions expressed here are my own as a parent.   As a teacher with an degree in elementary education and certification in special education, I am fully aware of how important reading comprehension is for a student.  I am not against retention when it is a decision made in partnership with parent, teacher, counselor, and student.   I am not against data driven decision making (when the data is meaningful and taken in context).

I honestly hope that we don’t have to resort to the extreme of civil disobedience with a massive statewide opt out. But I will continue to help empower and inform other parents with the facts about education in Oklahoma and how they can advocate for their students.   It is my hope that our legislators are already listening to our concerns and asking the hard questions.