Twitter chatter about opting out of state tests

As we monitor Twitter on a regular basis, we’re starting to pick up increased chatter about students and their parents consciously deciding not to take statewide standardized tests, which are required under federal law for school, district, and state accountability purposes.

The argument “for” opting out of state tests goes something like this, courtesy of New Mexico state Senator Tim Keller, Democrat of Albuquerque:

Frankly, this is all heading toward legal battle unless the legislature steps in and deals with it. Testing has become testing for the sake of testing as opposed to creating better students. That’s something we have to be careful with. We have to be sure there are large amounts of the school day left for all kinds of educational purposes other than teaching to the test. I think we’ve gone too far at this point.

He was quoted on KOB-4-Eyewitness News. I’m assuming Mr Keller is a lawyer by training, because his fear is exactly the same one I have. Now, any parent can call in an excused absence for their child, so I’m not talking about whether this is technically within legal bounds of the law or anything like that. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I doubt you’ll find anything about opting out of state tests in the Annotated Code of Maryland or in the Illinois Compiled Statutes.

What I keep wrestling with is the idea that although parents can decide whether to send their children to public school, private school, religious school, homeschool, or a few other places, opting out of mandatory testing seems like saying, “I’m going to participate in this mandatory program at the public school, but I’m not going to participate in that mandatory program.”

Thus, civil disobedience is born. It brings all kinds of snark. One commentator, whose name I can’t verify, wrote, “just opt out of going to school all together … let the serious kids get their schooling.” To this, I must respond, the opt-out people are serious about schooling, and that’s why they think there should be fewer tests taking kids out of classrooms.

This silliness will keep going back and forth. I suppose there’s no penalty any state attorney general can enforce for students or parents, since their act is creating an excused absence, at worst, but if not enough students participate at a school, there’s the chance the school will be labeled a failing school under the No Child Left Behind law, at least in states that don’t have waivers.

So, in Maryland, which has waivers and isn’t planning to use the MSA test to gauge teacher, school, or district accountability this year anyway, you may wonder why kids shouldn’t be allowed to opt out. Well, folks, it’s a federal law. State testing is mandatory. Civil disobedience is one way of saying you want the law changed. Other people in very high positions want it changed more than you do, trust me. But so far, nothing has happened to reduce the amount of testing we force on our children.

Some folks in Kansas have even developed an official-looking “Opt Out Form.” Parents are told to submit the form to their schools to collect signatures acknowledging the opting out protest. Good luck with that.

Don’t expect a government official or even a teacher to tell you it’s OK to break the law. No way they’re ever going to say something like that.

I’m left wondering if this is like a flight attendant not stopping you from using the lavatory when the seat belt sign is on. If a flight attendant comes by and you ask her, “Can I use the rest room?” when the seat belt sign is lit, the most common response is, “I can’t tell you it’s OK, but I’m not going to arrest you or anything.”

Opting out of tests is not something school officials are going to outright condone, but I’m not sure what anybody can do about this act of civil disobedience, either. I just know that the Twitter conversations are pumping up more and more support of this effort as the days go on.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.