2013-05-03 / Columnists

School Scope

Opt Out Movement Grows
By Norm Scott


Norm blogs at ednotesonline.org Norm blogs at ednotesonline.org “My child vomited on your high stakes test,” is one of my favorite buttons. With two weeks of testing ending on April 26th, parent grassroots groups “Change the Stakes” and “Time Out from Testing” led a large after school protest of 500 on the steps of the Tweed headquarters of the Department of Education. Many of these parents are part of the growing opt-out movement where parents refuse to allow their children to take part in a testing process which has turned into child abuse. Note this headline from Albany: “4th Grader Asked to Take NYS Test from Hospital Bed.” The kid was hooked up to medical devices.

As a retired 35 year elementary school teacher, I am not opposed to tests, created by teachers or standardized, though I increasingly have doubts. I took tests that mattered since the 5th or 6th grade. We were told to bring a number two pencil the next day. That was the only warning that a test was coming. Tests were used to place kids in future classes but kids and parents were fairly oblivious to the process. My first serious high stakes test was in the 8th grade in 1958 when I failed the entry exam into Brooklyn Tech miserably. I left in a state of shock when they called “time” and had a third of the exam left. From then on I was a nervous wreck throughout high school. I can understand a high school student having to deal with high stakes exams, but 8-year olds? Now they want to move the exams down to early childhood not to help the child but to get a baseline on them so they can use that to hound their future teachers.

One objection to HST is that they do not provide teachers with diagnostic information that would improve their teaching. Standardized tests become just a num- ber, given that results don’t come back until school is almost over. Kids go through almost a year of test-prep torture and take a test that has nothing to do with improving their learning.

I question how a few days of testing are used to threaten and torture kids, shut down schools and judge teachers’ careers. There is an agenda. High stakes tests have been the lynchpin used in the corporate assault to privatize public schools, create a lower costing non-union teaching force and scam the money saved. Education is big business and a growing educational-industrial complex has gained enormous power and influence over educational policy.

It took some time but the new Common Core tests tripped the trigger of resistance by parents. Teachers are pretty helpless to protest, given that the NY State Ed Department has threatened them with the death penalty, though in Seattle, an entire school refused to give what they deemed a useless test despite threats from the principal and Superintendent. So expect the teacher resistance movement to grow as long as teachers stick together.

The pressure on students, teachers and parents is intense. We even hear stories of children who felt they failed the test crying, “I’m going to get my teacher fired,” or worried about being responsible for causing their schools to close. Parents seem to have had enough.

Last year, the same groups organizing the April 26th protest held a large rally in front of Pearson, the billion dollar corporate entity that creates the tests, after one of the passages based on a pineapple was ridiculed. The incident became known as “Pineapplegate.” Only a few parents opted their kids out last year. This year there was a storm – throughout Long Island and through certain areas of NYC, with the opt-out movement gaining traction in Park Slope and Washington Heights. Thus the protest at Tweed led by Change the Stakes (changethestakes.wordpress.com), which I helped found, initially as mostly a teacher group, but it has morphed into a parent led organization that has done amazing work in organizing and supporting parents who wish to opt-out their children. CTS provides advice on how to deal with recalcitrant supervisors who feel threatened when top-scoring students don’t take tests.

As more parents refuse to have their children tested, the powers that be are extremely threatened. Some principals have begun to revolt too by supporting the movement. NY State principal of the year, Carol Burris wrote in the Washington Post:

“Parents sense that the interests of their children are being swept aside in a frantic rush to prepare workers for global economic contests. Their gut instinct is telling them that the politicians and pundits are more worried about economic growth than what testing is doing to their children’s education. That is why increasing numbers of parents are speaking up and opting out.”

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