Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times editorial today is a plea to parents and teachers who have organized the opt-out of standardized testing movement. This is in response to the 200,000 plus students in New York State who did not take this year’s grades three through eight standardized tests. While admitting that the tests are problematic, the editorial refers to the “ill-conceived boycott” as damaging the educational reform desperately needed in poor and rural communities and undermine the Common Core standards that offer the best hope for holding school districts accountable. The full editorial is below.
The editorial’s reasoning is specious in that this country has been on a standardized testing binge for fifteen years and it has done nothing to alleviate the achievement gap among urban, suburban and rural schools. In addition, the present day education reform movement has been promulgated by players namely neoliberal Washington D.C. pols, corporate America, corporate friendly-media including the New York Times, and others who continually dismiss the opinions of educators especially teachers. Lastly, parents and local community people are especially outraged by the way education policies initiated in Washington D.C. and endorsed by state education departments are forced upon local school districts which provide the vast majority of the funding for public education. The U.S. Department of Education has relied on quid pro quo arm-twisting to get states to bend to their policies and the result is a loud and effective resentment manifesting itself in the opt-out movement. Let the movement continue until local school districts, parents, and educators are shown more respect for their opinions by the federal government and state education departments.
New York Times Editorial
August 14, 2015
Opting Out of Standardized Tests Isn’t the Answer
An alarming 200,000, or 20 percent, of the students in grades three through eight in New York State public schools this year refused to take the state’s standardized tests in reading and math that are supposed to measure progress in meeting national academic standards.
This ill-conceived boycott could damage educational reform — desperately needed in poor and rural communities — and undermine the Common Core standards adopted by New York and many other states. The standards offer the best hope for holding school districts accountable for educating all students, regardless of race or income.
The 200,000 students, out of 1.1 million, who skipped the tests did not have a known valid reason, like illness. That was quadruple the number from the year before and by far the highest opt-out rate for any state. In some school districts the opt-out rate was above 80 percent. For the most part, those opting out were white and in wealthy or middle-class communities. In New York City, less than 2 percent opted out.
Many parents who oppose the tests say the tests are too difficult or do not track with classroom instruction. Of the students who took the tests statewide, only 31 percent had a proficient score on reading while 38 percent were proficient in math.
And teachers have complained that they will be judged unfairly based on how well students perform on tests that they consider faulty; at least one of their union leaders urged parents to boycott the tests.
Some of these complaints are legitimate. New York has adopted some of the most stringent testing standards in the country — equal to or higher than the bar set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which most experts consider the best measure of student performance — but has not done enough to train teachers to carry out a more rigorous curriculum.
In response to parental protests, the State Legislature last year forbade school districts to use test scores as the primary factor in grade promotions or to put the scores on a student’s permanent record. Current law also limits the use of test scores to rate teachers and requires that most of the rating be based on other factors, like classroom observations.
There may well be too much testing, but the math and reading tests, which come once a year, are not the ones to eliminate. And having a large number of students opting out of the tests could hurt efforts to document and close the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and more privileged students.
Federal law requires that at least 95 percent of eligible students take the annual tests, and districts that fall short may face penalties, including a loss of federal aid. But imposing penalties would further damage poor districts that already lack sufficient money to improve their academic performance or help subpar students with remedial tutoring. At the same time, financial penalties might not persuade districts with the highest opt-out rates — often the wealthier ones — to participate, since they are apt to receive little federal funding.
Although the state can also withhold funds, officials seem reluctant to stoke further parental anger.
With opt-out activists threatening to redouble their efforts next year, political leaders need to convince everyone involved — school boards, superintendents, principals, parents, state education officials, guidance counselors, and teachers and their unions — of the importance of these tests and find ways to help students and teachers meet the challenge they pose.