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.