Monday, February 2, 2015

Opt Out Week on the Range: Day One

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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Last week was School Choice Week, the privatizers' national love fest for vouchers and charters, spiced up with a touch of scorn for "government schools." I'm declaring this Opt Out Week on the Range, on my own. The Opt Out movement is growing in reaction to our national obsession with high stakes testing, and I figure interested Arizonans can benefit from knowing what's going on around the country.

Over the past weeks, I've been downloading every article I can find on the Opt Out movement, which encourages parents to protest high stakes testing by refusing to allow their children to take the tests. I've found articles about opting out in 21 states. In some states like Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Colorado and, recently, Louisiana, it's a pretty big deal. Here in Arizona, more articles have been written recently about people opting out of the measles vaccine than opting out of state testing, the one exception being articles that talked about the opt out bill in the legislature, HB 2246.

In coming days, I'll focus on the way the opt out issue is playing itself out in a number of states, but today, I want to to take a more general look at the topic. But first, this, just in (last Friday) from Louisiana:

Jindal issues executive order on PARCC testing

Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order this afternoon urging the state's education board to offer alternatives to the controversial PARCC testing that starts in March.

The governor's order also asks that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education protect school districts from being punished for students whose parents opt them out of the testing. Current policy would have a negative impact on school performance scores if students opt out of the test and receive a score of "0."
That's a first so far as I know: a governor issuing an order saying opting out is OK.

Which brings us to one of the most interesting aspects of the opt out movement. It brings together right wingers who are anti-Common Core but not necessarily against high stakes testing per se, and left wingers who are anti-high stakes testing but not necessarily against Common Core per se. Armed with different agendas, and often for different reasons, lefties and righties are fighting similar battles when it comes to high stakes testing. And that makes for a powerful, two-pronged attack.

Take, for example, this from Michelle Malkin on the right: Choose to refuse PARCC tests.
Moms and dads, you have the inherent right and responsibility to protect your children. You can choose to refuse the top-down Common Core racket of costly standardized tests of dubious academic value, reliability and validity.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I’m reminding you of your right to choose because the spring season of testing tyranny is about to hit the fan. Do you object to the time being taken away from your kids’ classroom learning? Are you alarmed by the intrusive data-sharing and data-mining enabled by assessment-driven special interests? Are you opposed to the usurpation of local control by corporate testing giants and federal lobbyists?

You are not alone, although the testing racketeers are doing everything they can to marginalize you.
And on the left, there's this from Diane Ravitch (though since she's an educational, not a political, writer, "on the left" is an oversimplification): Opt Your Child Out of State Testing: Don't Feed the Machine.
Testing is not teaching. It steals time from instruction. Making it so important leads schools to narrow the curriculum, cutting funding for the arts, eliminating social workers and counselors, cutting recess and physical education. Making testing so important leads to states and districts gaming the system, to schools shedding low-scoring students, to cheating, to teaching to the test, and to other anti-educational actions.

How to stop the machine?

Opt out.

Don't let your children take the test.

Most states make it difficult for children to refuse to take the tests. Opt-outers recommend two main strategies. Harkening back to slogans from the 60s, they can be called "What If They Gave a Test and Nobody Came?" and "Hell No, I Won't Test!"

What If They Gave a Test and Nobody Came? The idea here is, you keep your child out of school on test day. The problem with this strategy in Arizona and many other states is that the child has to miss the entire 3-4 week testing window, otherwise they'll be made to take the test when they return. That's a whole lot of school for a student to miss out on. 

Hell No, I Won't Test! Here, the child attends on test day, signs in on the test but doesn't answer any questions. On a paper test, that means breaking the seal, filling in the necessary identifying information, then either handing it in or sitting quietly until test time is up. On a computer-based test, the child logs on, then doesn't take the test. A problem with this could be that the child's "zero" brings down the classroom and school test average. However, advocates of this method say the zero on an unmarked test will be thrown out and not affect the total score of the classroom or the school.

A third legal option that's being explored is using the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is designed to stop online companies from collecting information from children under 13. Parents of children 12 or under might be able to invoke this act to opt out if the test is given on a computer.

If you want to know more about the national Opt Out movement, go to United Opt Out and FairTest.

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