Standardized Tests: Opting Out & Assessing Growth

I remember being in high school just a few years ago around test time. Oh, how I dreaded standardized tests. Useless, I thought (and still do in part, there has got to be a better way to assess teachers and students’ growth)! I remember complaining to my mom, a middle school teacher, about how taking these tests seemed like such a waste. I asked if I had to take them, and she said something along the lines of, “no, not everybody has to take them, but you’ll pass, just another hoop to jump through”.  I then asked if her middle school EC students had to take them too, because I knew that there was no way that everybody passed these things. Heck, I knew from experience.  My brother failed almost every year, and I failed once too.  She replied by explaining to me that no, not everybody takes the NC End Of Grade (EOG) tests, she even knew a set of parents that took their child on an annual trip that week to avoid the whole mess.

I was shocked.  I mean, it made sense to me that not everybody would pass the tests, and I was also very aware that the growth a student makes from August to May is often not able to be measured by the EOG tests. But, to just not take them at all? How?

The parents opted out.  They decided that they did not agree with the premise of the tests, what they did or did not measure, or just thought the testing process caused their child(ren) too much stress.

I was unaware of the opt-out process until high school because it was never discussed.  Teachers never told us that we had a choice about standardized tests.  Like my mom had told me, I just figured that they were yet another hoop I needed to jump through to get to college.

Now that I am in college, I am learning more about the opt-out process through the media and class discussions.  Recently, I heard about an eighth grader in New Mexico who passed out opt-out forms to her classmates who were unaware that they didn’t have to take standardized tests.  Some of the teachers then promptly took the opt-out forms from their students and threw them away. This appalled me.  Sure, the student could have simply told her friends about the opt-out process instead of passing out forms, but I feel that staff and administration should make it clear that standardized tests are NOT mandatory. Many people are under the impression that these tests are a mandatory practice, and that seems unfair to the students and their parents/guardians.

Standardized testing is supposed to be a way in which growth is measured within the school, its teachers, and its students.  But what do these scores really tell people?  In my opinion, standardized tests measure how good one batch of kids is at test taking compared the the batch of kids in that same grade before them.  To really assess student’s growth, maybe students should be tested on the same material two years in a row.  From there, teachers should be able to collaborate and strategize about how to best help each student learn and progress so he or she is ready for “the real world”.  I feel that there are also so many other ways to assess children’s growth, and it is important for families to know that they do in fact have the power to opt-out of testing if they do not believe that their child is benefiting from the standardized testing process.

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