Posted: Sep 16, 2013 8:00 AM
 
For the first time, I decided this week to keep my son home from school rather than subject him to state "benchmarking" tests. Apparently this is a growing trend among American parents. I have my own reasons relating to my son's reading disability, but I'm learning there are numerous reasons to opt out of standardized tests.

I am not a "helicopter" parent. In many ways, I am the opposite. For example, my kids make their own lunches. I've never been to a PTA meeting. My interest in back-to-school nights is, well, limited, and I don't think I've ever volunteered in my kids' classrooms. Bad parent?

Maybe. But also I work, or used to, in a job that required me to show up and stay there. Or, I was on maternity leave. And now that I work from home, the possibility exists but I'm not totally sure the interest is there. Just keepin' it real.

But on Monday, I made an executive parental decision that was specifically intended to protect my son from a perceived threat, and I felt a little helicopter-ish. My son's second grade teacher sent an email letting parents know about "benchmarking" tests, which are standardized tests given three times a year to, um, "benchmark," I guess. I'm kidding. I know what they're for. They're to determine children's abilities.

The first three days were language arts. I asked his teacher if it was written or oral. When she said "written," I made a decision to pull him out of class entirely during those tests.

I opted out, and here's why:

My son cannot read. He has a learning disability. His special education meeting, which will determine his accommodations, has not yet occurred, meaning he would just be thrown in with the other kids, to sit there for an hour and a half staring at a page that meant nothing to him, watching pencils move all around him, bored out of his mind, possibly wondering why he is the only one who can't do it. No thanks.

So, because I saw no benefit to my son whatsoever and knew it would cause him anxiety, stress and possibly embarrassment, I just kept him home.

It felt huge.

A couple of days later, I read this article on MSN about more and more parents "opting out" of standardized tests for a variety of reasons, such as "the stress they believe it brings on young students, discomfort with tests being used to gauge teacher performance, fear that corporate influence is overriding education and concern that test prep is narrowing curricula down to the minimum needed to pass an exam" (Source).

I'm just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it's being used to define what's happening in classrooms… These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They're meant to find out what kids know.

In the words of Will Richardson, an "educational consultant and former teacher," "I'm just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it's being used to define what's happening in classrooms…These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They're meant to find out what kids know." (Source).

And yet, it's questionable how well they even do that. Since they involve no "collaboration, imagination, critical thinking skills" and reduce intelligence to "circling in A, B, C, D, (Source)," parents and educators are increasingly disillusioned when it comes to the value of these tests. Since many states are subjected to No Child Left Behind laws, which "require districts to have at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing or be at risk of losing funding" (Source), politics play a significant role in these assessments.

Far from simply an effort to assess students' abilities and knowledge, teacher evaluation and thus employment often hinge on these tests, meaning the curriculum is driven by the need to meet state-mandated standards. Teachers are left in the position of "teaching to the test."

Change is coming

Some states have begun making these tests optional, and a movement against standardized tests is developing among American families. There is no consequence to the family or student for opting out of tests. Parents can just keep their child home or they can write a letter stating their child won't be participating.

The "opt-out" movement "is an act of civil disobedience…If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grassroots."

As Morna McDermott, a professor and board member of United Opt Out, states, the "opt-out" movement "is an act of civil disobedience…If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grassroots" (Source).

I sort of fell into "opting out" accidentally, in an effort to protect my son's confidence, but now that I know I have a choice for all these tests, well, I may start to look at the whole thing a little differently.

I know I will definitely be checking out "opt-out" groups in California. Beyond my son's experience, I don't need any more "proof" of the problems with these tests than listening to my teacher friends, who often feel like puppets on strings in the hands of state assessments and red tape.

Actually, let's be real. She had me at "civil disobedience."

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