Parent & Student Right to Opt Out of Standardized Tests Trumps Local Control

My local paper runs an editorial from its Sioux Falls counterpart that gets standardized testing and parent and student rights really, really wrong. Let me try to summarize the logic:

  1. “Standardized tests are necessary to gauge student learning. To get an accurate assessment, all students need to take the exams.”
  2. The state imposes curriculum standards and standardized tests.
  3. “Allowing students to opt out of taking the tests compromises the results and effectiveness of the measurement.”
  4. The state does not allow parents to opt their kids out of those tests.
  5. “Each school district should control its own testing processes. If a parent feels strongly that taking the test would be harmful to their children, and can make that argument convincingly, then the district can decide to exempt them.”

The editors’ subtle logic escapes me. The entire argument collapses at step #1: good teachers can gauge student learning perfectly well without standardized tests. If you trust your teachers, tests imposed by the state are unnecessary.

Having embraced the state’s unnecessary intrusion in education, the editors say the state is correct not to allow students or parents to opt out of the mandated standardized tests. Perhaps unable to completely dismiss the concerns and wisdom of their remaining subscribers, the editors still want parents to be able to pull their kids out of the tests. They thus assign the power to arbitrate this right to the local school districts.

Here the editors appeal to local control in an area where local control won’t work. First, the editors acknowledge that the state as a whole “has to meet participation requirements set by the federal government.” Since the state has a stake in the number of opt-outs, the state has to manage the opt-outs.

Second, if the editors are going to assign a test-opt-out right to parents, they must protect that right from test-eager districts who would refuse to respect that right. Overzealous administrators and school boards could take Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the editors’ argument and deny all test-opt-out requests. We can’t leave rights to local whim.

Unlike those Sioux Falls editors, I can offer a coherent argument on parental rights to opt out of tests:

  1. I trust teachers to create, administer, and evaluate their own tests.
  2. Standardized state tests are unnecessary distractions from teaching and learning.*
  3. Students and parents have a right not to participate in such unnecessary state-imposed tests.
  4. The state has erred in failing to respect that right.
  5. Local districts similarly err in requiring students to participate in unnecessary statewide standardized tests.
  6. The state should eliminate statewide standardized tests; barring that wisdom, the state should lay out clear rules to protect all students from punishment for choosing not to participate in statewide standardized tests.

If a right matters, you don’t leave it to local control. Parents, stick up for your rights. Kids, bring a good book on test days.

*Bonus note to Rep. Elizabeth May: In this regard, I agree that Common Core standards and tests are relevant to the Blue Ribbon panel discussion of how to meaningfully fund K-12 education and tackle our teacher shortage. Get rid of the standardized tests that cut into teachers’ time and professional autonomy and transfer all related funding to teacher salaries.

2 Responses to Parent & Student Right to Opt Out of Standardized Tests Trumps Local Control

  1. Donald Pay

    Well, I think you have to use standardized tests sparingly, but they can be helpful in a couple areas: (1) finding weaknesses in curriculum that no one is aware of, and (2) using them find weaknesses in a student knowledge that maybe wouldn’t be caught by classroom tests. In the first instance, you don’t have to test every student, but you have to have a randomized subset of students. In the second, you could use the tests just for students the teacher suspects are lagging in some area because of a lack of background.

    What we need to do is put teachers more in charge of how, where and when to use these tests, rather than have them mandated from on high.

  2. Deb Geelsdottir

    Good point about trusting the teachers. Teachers are a highly skilled, talented and motivated group. They know and understand their students on a deep level.

    I can see one standardized test per year. Let the teachers write it and edit it once every 5 years. Then let the teachers make use of it in whatever way best serves the student.

    The only standardized test I recall was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Because they were deemed sufficient in the 1960s doesn’t mean they still are. The “when I was a kid” meme is not an accurate or helpful response to testing questions.