The Debate Over Opting Out of Standardized Testing

Last month, New Hampshire’s Governor Maggie Hassan took a bold step in the debate over whether or not students can opt out of standardized testing by vetoed a bill that would have allowed for students to do so. In a Manchester Union Leader article, Hassan was quoted as stating, “House Bill 603 would conflict with current state educational accountability laws, undercut one of the tools that educators use to evaluate K-12 student progress, and jeopardize federal funding for New Hampshire schools.” Jim Roche, President of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, applauded the decision. He stated, “Aside from the very real fiscal ramifications of losing significant education aid to New Hampshire, HB 603 sends a message that our state doesn’t value student achievement and educational excellence. This is not a message that is conducive to economic growth and will likely discourage companies from considering New Hampshire as a state to grow an existing business or locate a new one.” New Hampshire has gained national attention this past year for developing an alternative to traditional standardized testing, one that uses classroom-based performance assessments to measure student achievement. 

 Hassan’s move comes in the wake of a heated national debate on whether or not students should have the right to opt out of standardized testing that is used as a measure of accountability for schools. This year, with the implementation of the Common Core, many states moved to new accountability tests such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Some have questioned the validity of these tests in measuring the higher order learning that should be taking place in our schools. Others are concerned that these tests take result in a loss of many instructional hours for children. Opponents to standardized testing have rallied behind groups such as United Opt Out (UOO), a Florida-based activist group that seeks to eliminate high stakes testing in public education. The group believes that high stakes testing “functions in opposition to quality public education, as it is used to punish children, to malign educators, and to provide financial gain for testing corporations and their political sponsors.” UOO maintains a list of families who have opted out of testing in various schools and states across the country. The movement has gained a lot of attention. The New York Times reported that in New York State alone, some 165,000 students opted out of standardized testing in the past year

Earlier this month, Jessica Beaver and Lucas Westmaas of Education Week talked about the policy implications when students opt out of testing. They wrote, “As researchers, we don't take a position on the opt-out movement specifically or standardized testing more broadly. But, as parents, educators, and others debate the role of standardized tests, it's important to assess whether test-based accountability holds up in the face of a growing number of opt-outs.” In their research, they focused on how opting out impacts school rating systems and also how many students must opt out before creating too much statistical noise for test-based systems to be useful.

Many believe supporters of the opt out movement are basing their decision on myths and assumptions about accountability testing that are unfounded. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss recently listed  five things people say about standardized tests and the opt-out movement that aren’t true. These myths were outlined by Denisha Jones, an administrator for UOO. Myth #1: Standardized testing is needed to address the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Myth #2: High-stakes standardized testing is needed to hold teachers and districts accountable. Myth #3: Opting out does not prepare children for the real world. Myth #4: Opting out is just for white middle-class families who care only about their own children. Myth #5: Opting out does nothing to stop the testing industrial complex.

Strauss admits that the opt out movement is a big deal. It can have a lasting impact on how we fund our schools, how we measure their success, and how we move forward with educational policy for the future. In the coming months, regardless of which side you are on, this is going to be a debate worth paying attention to. 

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education


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