As another school year begins, parents in pockets across the country, from Seattle to Long Island, are protesting what they see as excessive standardized testing. They are refusing to let their children take mandated statewide tests — an action in which anger has overtaken good judgment.
Granted, the tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law aren’t ideal. In many places, a focus on test-prep has shortchanged more effective ways of teaching. But like them or not, the tests are the most objective measures of student progress and school performance. They shouldn’t be dumped by individual parents in political protest.
What began as a trickle of boycotts in 2001 has turned into a torrent in some places. About 200,000 of New York’s 1.1 million third- through eighth-graders refused to take the English and math tests this year. In some Long Island districts, refusal rates topped 60%. About half of Washington state’s 11th-graders skipped state-mandated tests in April, depressing passing rates because test skippers got scores of zero. Pockets of refusal have shown up in Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah and other states.
Whether it’s permissible to skip the tests depends on where you live. Several states have passed opt-out provisions. Many have not. In New York, for example, school districts are required to administer tests, and there is no provision for opting out. But students who skip the test can be counted as “not tested,” and parents have taken advantage of that procedure.
In many places, teachers are part of the opt-out problem because teacher evaluations are based in part on test results, which unions vehemently oppose. Do teachers really want to return to the days when many teacher evaluation systems were shams and even the worst teachers were seldom fired?
While parents might be opting out with the best intentions, boycotts are not the responsible civil disobedience they envision. Parents are teaching their children to defy rules designed for the good of the community. Parents justify their actions by saying their children have become anxious or traumatized by “high-stakes” tests or perform poorly.
What will these parents do when their child is afraid to go to the dentist? Or take a different test? Or write a class report? You have to wonder what will happen when these kids grow up and face college and workplace competition. Perseverance and the ability to do difficult, upsetting tasks are part of life.
Parents who don’t like the public education system have options: They can home-school their children or send them to private schools. If they opt for public education, they can work within the system to improve testing or change the law. But flouting the rules teaches everyone, including their own children, the wrong lessons.