A couple of quick thoughts on why we not only need to support the opt-out movement, but why we need to be visible doing it. Please note the important caveat at the bottom.
Why We Need to Support Opt-Out
I’m sure it’s not necessary to detail everything that is wrong with the current state of standardized testing (The tests are invalid, they aren’t developmentally appropriate, they are being used in ways for which they were not designed, they rob time from students, they force the narrowing of the curriculum, etc., etc. etc.) It’s all been said already, but I’d like to point out two other things that we cannot allow to get lost.
First, the topic of receivership. Amidst all the hoopla about the so-called moratorium, most people have not noticed that state tests are still being used to evaluate school districts. Yes, the same tests that have been deemed so unreliable that they won’t count against students or teachers for the next four years, will still be used to determine which schools can be taken over by the state and, potentially, turned over to private entities.
Just to give a little more perspective on what the playing field looks like, the state actually removed some schools from the receivership list based on updated Federal designations, but Students First, a pro-charter school group who stands to benefit from schools being put into receivership, is threatening to sue, saying that the state violated the letter of the law. Maybe not my best analogy ever, but this is akin to a funeral home operators association suing the state to prevent emergency room workers from working too many overtime hours.
Second, we often talk about standardized testing as child abuse. And while some would say this is hyperbole, it is a very real concern that countless numbers of disabled and otherwise struggling children are forced to spend stressful hours of time suffering through tests that provide benefit, not to them, their teachers, or their parents, but only to the corporations that produce them.
But the abuse that’s happening in Florida isn’t hyperbole at all. Last year a parent who was attending to her comatose child (who died later that year) was forced “to provide documents proving that he was unable to take the Florida-mandated test,” and this year a child who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak was denied an exemption, with the state further denying a hearing to reconsider the decision. This is absolutely insane.
These are just isolated cases, and Florida is a long way from us (in more ways that one), so we could easily look away. But these incidents are emblematic of the abuse that is taking place all over the country. And we, in New York, are leading the way in the opt-out movement. How it fares here will likely impact its fate across the country.
Make no mistake, the opt-out movement is the best hope for making real changes and getting public education back on track. While Commissioner Elia denies it, the legislators we met with made it clear: test refusals were the driving force behind all of the positive changes that have happened thus far.
Why Our Support Needs to Be Visible
Nobody knows what this year’s opt-out numbers will be. While some proponents are hoping for record numbers, there is a big fear that the news of the moratorium and promises of changes to the tests will cause the movement to lose steam. We can’t let this happen. There are parent groups out their working very hard to get the message out that nothing has changed, and they need our help.
Along the same lines, there’s this:
I’m saddened to think about the terrible things that must have happened in the cartoonist’s life to cause him to have such contempt for the entire teaching profession. But regardless of the falseness of this message, it’s out there. And as we know, a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. Making this worse, we’ve heard this not just from the usual teacher-bashing corners, but from people who should be on our side as well.
Obviously our opposition to these high stakes tests goes way beyond the connection to our evaluations. As many of you know, SWRTA authored a resolution to be presented at this year’s NYSUT Representative Assembly which reaffirms our opposition to the current testing regimen even if they are decoupled from our evaluations. But even if the resolution passes, that’s not until the first week of April, and it’s not like that will get a great deal of press coverage.
We need to support the movement, but our role here is broad, not local. You have the right to speak freely as a private individual who happens to be an educator. But in or out of your classroom, when dealing with our district’s students and their parents, you should not be seen as advising students to opt-out of the tests. Your response when asked (even if they see you at the mall wearing an opt-out t-shirt) is that the final decision belongs to the parent.