It's that time of year again: standardized testing time. Students are stuck in their classrooms, filling in circles on multiple-choice standardized tests that will determine everything from their teacher's salary to the amount of funding their school receives.
Talk about pressure.
But from the very movement these standardized tests became federally mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, there was a quiet movement to opt-out of these tests in an effort to spare kids the pressure. Parents have kept kids home on test-taking day, or sent them to school with a note excusing them from taking the test. Over the years, that quiet movement has gathered a wave of supporters who see opting out as their only means of fighting a broken system.
The anti-testing movement has caught in all over the country, making the news this year in Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and several other states. Everywhere, the theme is the same — these tests don't work. And forcing students to continue taking them is bad for students, bad for teachers, and bad for schools. Let the teachers get back to teaching and let the students get back to learning without placing so much emphasis on one set of high-pressure tests.
In Florida, teacher's unions are lobbying to limit the use of standardized tests. And voter pressure recently led the governor to sign a bill limiting the amount of time that students can spend taking these tests.
In Chicago, school officials recently announced that they will not administer the federally-required tests in the vast majority of their 664 schools. The move came after more than 60 schools refused to administer the tests last year and thousands of students at the schools that did require them opted out.
In Massachusetts, a committee of school superintendents has joined together to raise their concerns about the amount of testing required at their schools and how it is taking away from the time their teachers need for actual teaching.
In New Jersey, the teacher's union backed an advertising campaign in which a distressed father describes his son's mental distress over taking the standardized tests.
Similar objections and movements are popping up all over the country. But nowhere has the movement caught on quite as effectively as it has in New York.
This year, as many as 175,000 New York students have opted out across several hundred of the state's school districts. The numbers are still small compared to the millions of students who go to school in New York, but they are big enough to get everyone's attention.
Part of the reason that the movement has caught on so rapidly in New York is that the state's governor announced earlier this year that 50 percent of teacher evaluations (and thus teacher salaries) would be tied to their students' performances on standardized tests. That got the attention of teacher's unions and parents who have decided that enough is enough when it comes to all of this high-stakes testing.
The downside to the opt-out movement is that schools with less than 95 percent of their student's taking the tests could lose some federal funding. But there is actually a draft bill in Congress right now that could rewrite the controversial No Child Left Behind to take some of the pressure off annual testing and give states more control over what their annual accountability should look like.
And that probably wouldn't have happened without the mass of support that has gathered around the opt-out movement.
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