The national opt out movement is a force to be reckoned with, perhaps in spite of themselves. A growing movement, opt out advocates promote parent choice in refusing student participation in standardized tests. United Opt Out, a center for opt out advocacy in the United States, calls itself a “movement to end corporate education reform,” demanding an “equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all…” As testing season begins, the number of refusals is only growing; WGRZ reported an approximate 220,000 refusals to take the math exam in 2015.
The harms of standardized testing spew from the mouths of parents, children, and teachers alike, particularly vociferous, protective parents tired of seeing their six-year-olds quake with anxiety on test day.United Opt Out demands a break from corporate education, a common complaint that is well-founded, considering testing giant Pearson’s ability to earn millions through test production. It’s unclear who these tests are serving, critics say, but it’s definitely not our students. A major complaint seems to be the inequity of it all – despite promises to close the achievement gap between majority and minority students, little progress has been made since the enactment of No Child Left Behind.
Indeed, United Opt Out demands this: integrated, anti-racist education policies that are equitably funded which, let’s face it, is directly related to the diversity of a school system. These ideas are founded in truth: kids deserve analytical, creative curricula, and testing unfairly disadvantages groups of students facing structural disadvantage. However, I can’t help but feel that perhaps the opt out movement furthers the very injustice it seeks to correct. Opt out demands that education is integrated, but opting out is not a policy everyone has equal access to – many of the parents involved in opting out are likely white, middle-income parents with the access to resources and the ability to refuse a test. If you have to know to opt out, how will parents who don’t know, undoubtedly skewed to include mostly low-income, minority parents make the decision that is right for their child? I envision a classroom partially empty on test day, filled only by minority and low-income students who look around and find themselves hurriedly bubbling in answer sheets while their primarily white and middle-class counterparts spend the day playing outside. How can that send a message of equity and inclusion?
The current testing system is not sustainable nor is it productive. Something needs to change, but opting out is only a bandaid, not a solution. Instead of opting out, parents should take their well-founded perspectives and charge their legislators with creating policy that is not centered on annual testing but instead on deeper comprehension rooted in frequent and minor assessments. Opting out sends a message that all assessments are negative when, in reality, assessing student understanding is integral to progress — but testing doesn’t have to look like monotonous, confusing questions and weeks of precious time wasted on learning how to bubble in answers. The parents who have the power to do this are the same parents instead choosing to take part in exclusive, short-term measures that send a message to their children that if there’s something wrong with the system, you can just opt out and complain about it instead of recognizing it as a structural problem and addressing it as one.
Opt out isn’t the way forward; instead, opting in to student-centered dialogue about the culture of testing could create effective reform that unshackles American education from corporate, discriminatory interests once and for all.