A Stick into the Spokes

Opting out of testing

Testing season is upon us — again. During April, May and June, students take weeks of Smarter Balanced Math and Language Arts tests. This is in addition to a year’s worth of other tests such as OAKS Science, EasyCBM, DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), STAMP (STAndards-based Measurement of Proficiency), EDL2 (Evaluación del desarrollo de la lectura), etc.

Yet some choose not to. Their families sign the Oregon Department of Education’s Opt Out form because House Bill 2655 allows every parent to make this choice for their kids for any reason. Forms are available online or in all school offices.

Two years ago, 10 percent of Eugene School District 4J students opted out; last year that number increased to 13 percent. (The numbers for this year are not yet tabulated.) Lake Oswego’s opt-out rate was an astronomical 71 percent — with no repercussions!

The Springfield School Board last June unanimously passed a resolution urging parents to opt their kids out, calling the tests an “ineffective measure of student growth and accountability.” 

Then-Board Chairman Jonathan Light said the Smarter Balanced test was never created for students’ benefit. 

“It was designed to compare districts and teachers, not to help students learn,” he said. “As a board member, I just don’t feel like it’s OK to encourage our students to participate in something that doesn’t help them in any way. I really feel like school boards have to stand up for what’s right for their students.”

Amen to that.

What Opting Out Accomplishes

When parents say no to these tests, they are jamming a stick into the spokes of a system that unfairly punishes many kids who don’t test well for a variety of reasons, including various disabilities or English language learning.

Nationwide, teachers say the technology demands of tests, the wording of questions and even the tasks themselves are not age appropriate. Yet students who fail can be placed in remedial classes, too often at the expense of missing out on interesting and enriching electives. 

How Did We Get Here?

Under No Child Left Behind, corporate reformers and their political allies believed they knew more about what’s best for kids than teachers, administrators, local school district leaders and even parents. Under their corporate model, they determined that public schools (not the schools their own kids attend) should be run like businesses: data-driven, top-down and one-size-fits-all.

Corporate opportunists then turned classroom activities into profits. Work normally performed as part of a teacher’s salary is gradually being replaced with computerized lessons and ever more standardized tests at enormous costs. This model has set the stage for U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her corporation-friendly devaluation of public education.

The Result?

Before No Child Left Behind, kids normally took only three or four standardized tests from kindergarten through graduation. Now students in 4J and other districts take up to 120 standardized tests in addition to classroom tests and quizzes! And strangely, the Oregon Department of Education is considering adding even more standardized tests. 

Since Oregon launched the state’s Smarter Balanced tests three years ago, our overall standardized test spending has exploded to over $80 million annually. (Figure based on research through Oregon Rep. Susan McLain, a state contract and a grant application we’ll post online.) Yet training to improve teaching dropped by millions! Electives like music, art, shop and PE all but disappeared. And key student services ranging from nurses to counselors rose a mere $125,000 annually — only 25 cents per student per year! We must restore a balance.

Schools are not factories. Kids are not products. Learning is not output production. Teachers are not input and output managers. Educational leaders should not be production supervisors and enforcers.

Make your voice heard and put a stick into the spokes. Contact your kids’ teachers, their principal and your school board members to demand we rebalance our spending, reduce standardized testing and restore electives and student services. The timing is perfect; the state budget and test contracts are under negotiation. 

Opt out now! 

Larry Lewin, Rachel Rich and Roscoe Caron are former middle and high school teachers in Eugene and Springfield Districts. All are members of CAPE, the Community Alliance for Public Education, a coalition of parents, teachers, professors, students and community members who challenge the many assaults on public education and who believe that strong public education is the foundation for American democracy. We meet the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Mondays at 4:30 pm at Perugino in downtown Eugene. For more information, visit CAPE’s website at oregoncape.org.

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