Opting Out of a Test and into a Movement

By Shana Kennedy-Salchow

Imagine a child that does not show up on exam day or shows up and refuses to take the exam. The child is not reprimanded by the parents but encouraged as part of a political statement. Imagine no more. This is happening in the U.S., and it is called the Opt-Out Movement.

After years of tests coming from multiple organizations and levels of government as well as new Common Core Standards and assessments, parents and their children are taking matters into their own hands: They refuse to take many of the state-level exams. Official national estimates of how many students have opted out don’t exist, yet the movement has affected schools and districts across the country. Take the relatively small state of Connecticut for example, where a handful of districts had more than 50 percent of its students opt out of state exams this year. One district had an opt-out rate of 93 percent, but less than 10 percent opted out in the vast majority of districts. New York has also had a similar experience with at least 165,000 kids sitting out for at least one state exam.

In fact, this movement has captured the attention of policymakers and presidential candidates. Even some of the staunchest supporters of standards and assessments have recently developed a more relaxed stance on testing and test-based policies. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently declared, “too much testing can rob school buildings of joy and cause unnecessary stress.” However, not everyone agrees that the Opt-Out Movement is helpful for kids. Educational advocate Brooke Haycock points out that the tests kids are opting out of are actually low-stakes exams and that opting out of more important exams (e.g. SAT, professional licensing exams) is simply not an option since tests – for better or worse – are a part of life. Numerous civil rights groups are also arguing for annual testing to be maintained in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Regardless of how far the Opt-Out Movement reaches, one thing is clear: It will affect both the reauthorization of NCLB regarding the amount of testing required of school districts and the role of the federal government in the long run.

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Shana has several years of experience working in education policy in the U.S. at the state and federal levels and as a teacher. She is now a Ph.D. student at Humboldt Universität in Berlin in the Education Sciences Department.