Standardized Testing – Opt Out or Show Up?

Standardized Testing – Opt Out or Show Up?  April Zajko, M.Ed.

www.aprilsteachingtree.com

One of my favorite education bloggers is Teacher Tom. I have been quietly reading his blog for years and most days I agree so wholeheartedly with his writing that I talk out loud while I read. If you were in the room you would hear, “Seriously! Yes! For real….finally someone has the guts to name it for what it is.”

Today’s post on Teacher Tom’s blog about standardized testing though doesn’t ring true for me. Tom’s stance is that opting out of standardized testing as “the patriotic thing to do”, and that by not allowing your child to take the state test you are “wrestling control of public education from the hands of billionaire who will standardize our children in the quest of profit and efficiency.”

What?

Seriously?

As a public school teacher who is willing to do most anything to see our students succeed, I feel like his rhetoric is a slap in the face. I have great pride in the years that I worked in various public schools and know that my fellow teachers would do anything to help a child to succeed.

Wait a minute…by contrast then:

Is Teacher Tom saying that by allowing my children to take their standardized tests means that I am an unpatriotic American?

Is sending my kid to school on a testing day like throwing my offspring into the hands of evil billionaires who will “standardized” them during their testing sessions?

Is it up to me to opt out of testing to make a stand for democracy and prove my love of John Dewey?

Is Tom telling me that I should make OPT-OUT signs, carry a pitch fork, and demand the billionaires get out of my kids school?

Is Tom spreading fear to parents who are on the fence about whether or not to participate in state testing, and is he instituting some rhetoric that only the far, far left would find logical? In a polarized time I am feeling the need to push back and show the world how wonderful it can be to be a moderate, who questions educational practices, and supports the teachers of their local school.

Background info on me:

I have a very different point of view on this topic, so I thought I would respond by creating my own blog post and offer a counterbalance to parents who are on the fence about testing.

As a former public school teacher and product of public school up-bringing I feel like I have a different perspective. I began teaching in the era of No Child Left Behind, but had a mentor who offered a voice of reason understanding that all children will reach 100% proficiency because we write it as a goal. Instead, we meet children where they are and differentiate their instruction so everyone gets what they need.

Policy makers, as well as ‘progressive educators’, live in their own world, and may not be in touch with the same reality I have experienced. I am respectful enough to read and listen to differing views, but as some point, we need to remember that all voices have value. While Teacher Tom might think that his words are inspiring parents to take action to opt out, he might be completely blind to how hurtful his words are to public school educators around the United States.

In my view of the world, I have been given tests throughout my life and being able to pass the tests meant that I was continuing on my educational journey. When I think back to my childhood, the first test I can remember being given was in first grade and I knew I flunked…miserably. As a result, I ended up in daily speech therapy and I felt weird that I had to leave right in the middle of everything to go work on saying ‘spaghetti’ and a whole string of really hard /s/ words.

I can also remember being ability grouped for small group reading and wondering if I would ever be in a group other than the bottom one. I can remember my spelling list being shorter than most of the other kids, and that for most tests I was pulled to the side of the room for extra help. Honestly, it felt crappy, I would tell my mom all about it, and she pushed me to try harder the next day. I also remember other kids earning stickers and praise for talking in class, but those words did not come easy for me so I would sit quietly or stare out the window.

Language and literacy did not come easily for me for many, many years. My mom recounts how I didn’t speak until I was almost four, and how the pediatrician called it ‘stubborn, hard-headed selective mutism’.

Once I entered school I had to work hard in order to be able to speak, and I had to participate in extra testing so my teachers knew how to help. My mom was an incredible advocate for me, knowing that the squeaky wheel got the grease. Still to this day there are times when I want to retreat and not speak…so I write it down.

Testing (both in elementary school and getting into graduate school) showed that my written communication skills are a strength and verbal skills still need to be developed. The purpose of testing is not to prove you are a smarty-pants, not to rank students, and not to be used in a punitive way.

I know that state testing in 2019 and the testing that I had as a kid in the 1980’s are dramatically different. However, as a Reading Specialist and Licensed Early Childhood Educator I have had the opportunity to see the assessments that are given and how they have evolved. Teachers work diligently to support ALL learners in administering any assessment, and most would like to see a decrease in the number or length of state assessments. Instead of ‘opting out’ parents can be advocates by talking with their child’s teachers about the test, asking for ways they can support their child at home, and talking with the school administrators about the issues they have with the testing culture of the school. Just ‘opting out’ without this dialogue is not advocacy!

If I tried to talk in person to Teacher Tom about this I would be tongue tied or fumbling my words or more likely, hanging out in the bathroom avoiding him. Through testing, showing up and failing forward, I have learned so much about myself as a learner…which has also made me a better teacher.

In my elementary days, our annual tests were used as screening tools and were used in moderation. Today many educators and parents alike both believe there is too much time and emphasis put onto state testing, and I agree. The quantity of testing and the number of days spent on testing should be an ongoing conversation. How we differentiate our instruction and meet the needs of ALL learners should be the dialogue in every school. Pushing back so that our preschoolers and primary grade children are learning through play, and clarifying the curriculum that our children receive should NOT be reduced down to just math and literacy. Advocating that our children need time to have physical movement throughout the day, unstructured recess time, time outside in nature, and hands-on learning are powerful conversations that we should all be engaged in. Educators, administrators, community members, parents, and most importantly students who feel there should be a shift away from a test driven focus of school should feel empowered to speak up!  Connecting with others and expressing our concerns and pushing for a more balanced approach to the education in their schools is powerful….and long overdue.

Not showing up for a test and thinking you are saving the democracy is foolish at best. ~ April Zajko, M.Ed.

Sending the flag up and saying ‘abandon ship and opt out’ doesn’t fix what’s broken in our nation’s public education system. Teacher Tom openly admits to living inside his own bubble, which is an amazing parent cooperative model of child care in Seattle that honors children as individuals and using PLAY as the way to teach all the young children who are enrolled. Many early childhood educators, myself included, would be delighted to work in such a supportive environment. But reality check…..the majority of us do not teach in such a setting, nor can we afford to send our children to a program like it.

So here we are in the boat, keeping it afloat, and trying to steer our educational practices back to solid land. Reading the research, working diligently to offer play based learning in our early education environments, teaching a diverse classroom of learners and meeting their needs every day,  and feeling berated and defeated when ‘progressive’ educators cast stones making public school teachers feel like bedfellows of evil billionaires.

Teacher Tom’s post today is ludicrous and insulting. It’s exhausting, and one of the reasons many public school teachers like myself can no longer ‘be in the arena’. Stones are cast from the cheap seats, but few of those hurling insults at us will show up to advocate for real change.

The talking points I have with my own kids about state testing:

  • Throughout life you will have tests. Some tests are done on a computer. Some are done with pen and paper. And some require to you to speak when you would rather remain silent.
  • I want you to show up. Try your best and give it all you’ve got.
  • There might be times when you doubt what you know. Don’t worry I doubt stuff all the time and I have a couple of degrees.
  • Stretch. Relax your shoulders.
  • Cheer on your friends ~ remind them how smart they are because maybe no one gave them the pep talk I am giving you.
  • Take your time. Finishing first only shows that you went too fast, so go back and check your answers. If you are the last to finish and have to move to another room, so be it.
  • Name an activity you want to do when you get home today.
  • Yes, we will buy gum and let you share it with your friends on testing day.

 

Closing Thoughts:

Now that you are a parent YOU get to decide what is best for your family. There is no one right answer for all children. As for standardized testing, you get to choose to Opt Out or Show Up.

Parents do have that option to OPT OUT, and in some instances this might be the right choice. Such as testing causes too much anxiety, your child has a concussion, or there are difficult things happening in their child’s life that makes testing too much of burden. Parents and children have the right to refuse testing, and in most states the parent needs to write that request down each year and discuss it with their school. If you are Opting Out, think about your reasons and talk with the administrator at your child’s school about your concerns. When administrators understand parents concerns they reflect on practices and consider other view points.

Within my educational journey, as I was sitting on lawn waiting to graduate from the University of Virginia with my Masters in Education, I thought about how many steps it took to get to that seat on the lawn. I thought about the many teachers who pushed and encouraged me to try just a little bit harder. I am so glad that my public school recognized that I needed to be tested, and that my mom agreed to allow me to receive special education services. It’s because of testing that I didn’t fall through the cracks, and through my mother’s fiery determination that there was no stigma whether I fell in bottom quartile, right in the middle of the pack, or tested into a gifted program. In fact, in my education journey I have experienced what it feels like to be in all those phases. Through my educational journey testing was a reality, and because I kept showing up I gained confidence and developed my own unique voice and view on education.

May we move towards a constructive, respectful dialogue that looks our national public education system in terms of the needs, problems, and possibilities….and stop casting stones at the very people how show up in the arena, day after day, year after year.

“For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its’ principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.”
― John Dewey

 

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