Fighting for Equity in Education

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Massive Surge in Students Opting-Out of Tests

Saturday April 18, 2015

There was a massive surge in the number of students being withdrawn from standardised tests in the United States last week. The New York Daily News reported that the entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled and opted their children out of tests.

The opt-out movement has reached an historic high. The Washington Post reported that nearly 185,000 students did not take the English tests in New York. This represents over 15 per cent of all students in New York. It is a huge increase over last year when about 49,000 students (four per cent) did not take English tests and about 67,000 (six per cent) skipped mathematics tests.

In some New York schools, opt-out rates have topped 80 per cent. According to PBS News Hour, some school districts reported more than half of students opting out of the English test as some education superintendents reported that 60 per cent or even 70 per cent of their students refused to sit for the exams.

Nearly 15 per cent of high school juniors in New Jersey opted out this year, although fewer than 5 per cent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests. Considerable resistance also has been reported in Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

The opt-out movement has been growing around the country as many parents, teachers, principals and even superintendents question the extent of testing in US schools. Much of the criticism focuses on the sheer number of tests now being applied in public schools. From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts.

Of these, only 17 are mandated by the federal government, but the backlash that began when No Child Left Behind started to hold teachers, schools and districts strictly accountable for their students’ progress has only grown stronger since the Common Core curriculum was introduced.

“There is a widespread sentiment among parents, students, teachers, administrators and local elected officials that enough is enough, that government mandated testing has taken over our schools,” said Bob Schaeffer from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which seeks to limit standardized testing.

Parents groups and teachers say that the standardized tests are a waste time, narrow the curriculum, cause anxiety and are misused to rate teachers. The National Education Association said that teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing the results of standardized tests.

Australia’s standardised tests, NAPLAN, begin in a few weeks. Unlike in many US states, these tests are not compulsory. Parents can choose to withdraw their child from NAPLAN.

Trevor Cobbold

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