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10/11/14

The Option Game


The Option Game


    Supporters of the accountability movement in public education have had 13 years of test driven “reform” to prove their point.  It should be obvious now that 13 years of accountibalism have produced no positive results. If you believe that test scores accurately reflect teaching and learning in our public schools then you also must accept those scores have not shown a positive effect.  If you believe the SAT is reflective of student achievement then 13 years of test and retest and test again have been an abysmal failure in serving as anything other than a reliable predictor of family income.  In spite of the continued demand for “choice” by the professional accountabullies - those that insist that standardized testing is the only way to hold public education accountable - the only success stories they can point to are the gigantic growth of the educational testing industry and draining millions of tax dollars from public education into privatization efforts.  One of the choices that has not appeared in Georgia is that of parents having the ability to opt their children out of standardized testing.  As it stands now, parents have few legal options if they decide to opt their children out of the standardized testing craze in public schools.
    Public school students are now serving as mass subjects in the “test to distraction” movement.  The over reliance on standardized tests at the Federal, state and district level have managed to narrow the curriculum, take time away from true teaching and learning, push out non-tested subjects like music, art, chorus, band, electives and vocational classes, fuel the push to replace veteran teachers with less expensive and less experienced replacements and allow testing and test prep to dominate class time for students and teachers.
    District testing calendars in Atlanta Public Schools for 2012 indicate 3rd grade students spent 11.8 hours on state tests and 9 hours on district tests.  Students in 7th grade spent 8.5 hours on state tests and 12 hours on district tests.  Teachers in those grades calculate the time actually spent by students on testing, test prep and test review is more than double that amount, and some teachers noted that more than 35% of instruction time each year is spent on test review, test planning, test taking strategies, practice tests, preparation for assessment, re-assessment and actual testing.  
    It’s possible in Georgia to opt your students out of standardized testing, but the lack of legislation to allow this makes it difficult in many cases.  In high school, the EOCT may, with a parent’s insistence, be replaced by a student portfolio graded in its stead.  Common Core requirements state that students in special education must be tested on grade level in spite of what their Individualized Education Plan says.  This policy, enacted by Secretary Duncan without congressional approval, appears to violate Federal law as written in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  While it may be possible to write an opt out clause into a students’ IEP,  resistance to this option at the Federal, state and school level may be expected.  While the CRCT will be replaced next year in Georgia by a more difficult test, students in grades 3, 5 and 8 will still be required to pass before being promoted.  Parents deciding to opt their children out of these tests may use current procedures for parental appeal of retention, but these are cumbersome at best and require the formation of a placement committee consisting of the parents, the Principal and each of the child’s teachers to determine whether or not the student is performing at grade level.  The committe reviews student class participation, class work and performance and teacher observations of student learning. The committee decision must be unanimous, and the student may be promoted with the understanding that extra help and support are required for the following year.
    Parents may also opt out for religious reasons, they may refuse to sign the internet agreement at the beginning of the year effectively opting out of on-line assessments, they may withdraw their child from school on testing days and re-enroll them after the tests, or they can present a note to the school Principal stating “my child is not to participate in any test not created by my child’s teacher.” What’s really needed is Georgia legislation that allows parents to opt their children out of standardized testing without having to jump through administrative hoops to do so.
    No figures are available on the number of Georgia students opting out of tests last year, but in New York state last year over 35,000 students took advantage of this opportunity.  The BOE in Colorado Springs passed a ruling allowing parents this option in September of this year.  In Texas, 412 districts representing more than 2 million students have signed on to a resolution calling for an end to standardized testing as a measure of student achievement.  Resistance to over testing is growing nationally, and at a rapid rate.
    I find it disturbing that many of the legislators promoting testing as a requirement for school accountability in Georgia and across the nation have their children enrolled in private schools.   Those promoting more and more testing in the name of reform, including Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and President Obama, have or had their children enrolled in private schools.  If testing were an effective way to improve education, perhaps they should try it on their own children before imposing it on ours.  Department of Defense, private schools and parochial schools are all exempt from the testing mania, and the prevailing mantra for those making decisions about public education seems to be “it’s OK for your kids but not for ours.”  That’s a level of hypocrisy along the same lines as a Congress that voted to impose the Affordable Care Act on the public then voted to exempt themselves from the same law.
    I propose two reforms of my own for immediate action by the Georgia legislature:
  1. Allow an exemption from standardized testing as one of the options for “flexibility” for charter system and IE2 applications;
  2. Pass legislation giving parents the right to opt their students out of standardized testing in public schools.
    If our legislators really believe in “choice” for parents, they can do nothing less than give public school parents the option of opting their kids out of standardized testing.  That would be a reform worth implementing.

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