Opt Out Part 2 - Don’t believe the hype: there are no penalties for opting out!

Image courtesy of  morguefile.com

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

The testing season is in full swing in CA this month and will continue through May. The CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) and the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting ) Science test will be given at our children's school. As a reminder, California Education Code 60615 allows a parent “to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered”. So don’t be afraid to opt your children out. In speaking with other parents, I constantly hear them say: “We can’t opt them out! They won’t graduate to the next grade!" or “They’re supposed to take it…aren’t they?” and "Won't it affect their funding?" This is echoed in a recent email from one of our teachers to the parents, “students must take the CASPP”. To be fair, when I explained to the teacher than this was misinformation, she did promise to correct the wording on subsequent emails.

The fact is, parents should not believe the hype from administrators, teachers, PTAs, and fellow parents that do more to scare than inform. Some school administrators will say that if the children don’t take this optional and, as it turns out also dubiously relevant test, that the school will be penalized, somehow. According to FairTest.org, “…eight states (California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin) have specific language in their statutes allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized testing. More importantly, not one school or state has ever been sanctioned - ever. Last year, the Department of Education (DOE) took absolutely no action at all when Oregon made it especially clear and easy for parents to opt their children out.

The fact is, no state or federal agency has ever withheld funds for children’s education because the school did not have a high enough participation rate for this optional, and frankly irrelevant, test. And even if they tried this, the backlash would be tremendous. Lawsuits would undoubtedly follow based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This protection was applied to educational institutions by the Supreme Court of the United States in May 1975, in Plyler vs. Doe, and confirmed that public education cannot be withheld from children based on criteria over which the children have no control such as race or income. In the case of standardized testing, where the argument would be whether it was required or not, this would also be outside of their control. The bottom line is, there is a shifting tide away from standardized testing and the proponents of testing do not want to test this in court.

One thing parents should do when talking with teachers about their choice to opt out is to have a proposal for an alternative learning experience. This is because teachers may not even be prepared for this and will likely ask the child to spend those three hours in front of a computer watching video - this is not recommended. For example, I am taking my children to the California Science Center and the African American Museum in Los Angeles. We worked out an agreement with their teachers that they will be writing up what they want to get out of the experience and then have a chance to present it to the class. They also will be volunteering in the kindergarten classroom as helpers during other test days. Both our children are very excited about this plan for a variety of reasons, but most of all because they get to do something special that they actually want to do. For the teacher, their students will continue to learn the content that directly relates to the learning objectives. As it turns out, our teachers have been incredibly supportive, for which I feel very fortunate.

Parents contact me asking what to do during the testing period. I tell them simply opt out! It's really not that hard and I calmly tell them that the tests do nothing but hijack the teaching time, stress everyone out, and contribute nothing to the educational well-being of the child - they are over-tested already. Let me be very clear. As I said before, I am not against all tests. I just will not allow our children to become trained test-takers at the expense of so many other things they could be learning that will benefit them in life. In the end, our children are why we invest in schools. Let’s do our best to ensure that their education isn’t sacrificed at the altar of the testocracy.

For part 1 of this article, "Opt Out! The Harm of Standardized Tests," see below.