The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing

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Testing season is a gray period in my classroom.

 

But it’s a joy in my house.

 

As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference.

 

In school I have to proctor the federally mandated standardized tests. But I’ve opted my own daughter out. She doesn’t take them.

 

So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.

 

“Daddy, daddy, look!” she squeals.

 

And I’m bombarded by an entire Picasso blue period.

 

Or “Daddy, will you staple these?”

 

And I’m besieged by a series of her creative writing.

 

My daughter is only in second grade and she loves standardized test time.

 

It’s when she gets to engage in whatever self-directed study strikes her fancy.

 

Back in kindergarten I missed the boat.

 

Even as an educator, myself, I had no idea the district would be subjecting her to standardized tests at an age when she should be doing nothing more strenuous than learning how to share and stack blocks.

 

But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.

 

I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.

 

Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.

 

Then I found out my daughter was also taking the DIBELS, a test where she reads a passage aloud and is given a score based on how quickly she reads without regard to its meaning. In fact, some of the passages test takers are forced to read are pure nonsense. It’s all about how readers pronounce words and whether they persevere through the passage. It’s not so much about reading. It’s about grit.

 

No. My precious little one won’t be doing that.

 

I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.

 

The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.

 

Ever since, my daughter hasn’t taken a single standardized test.

 

For me, it was a political statement as well as a parental one. I wanted to do my part to chip away at the corporate school reform movement. I know how much they rely on these test scores to justify closing poor schools like mine. I don’t want to give them a chance.

 

But little did I know what bliss I would be providing for my little one.

 

Beyond politics, I thought I was just protecting her from a prolonged period of boredom, unfair assessments and cognitively invalid measurements.

 

I wanted to shield her from adult woes. What I didn’t realize was I was opening a door for her creativity.

 

It’s amazing. All the other poor children sit there dutifully filling in bubbles while she pours her heart out onto the page.

 

She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.

 

Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.

 

I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in her abilities during this time. Her handwriting, sentence construction, word choice and spelling have taken a leap to the next level. While her classmates are wasting time on the assessments, she’s actually learning something!

 

I wish I could provide the same opportunities for my students that I have for my daughter.

 

It’s strange.

 

As a parent, I have the power to make educational decisions on behalf of my child. But as a trained education professional, I’m not allowed the same privilege.

 

Don’t teachers stand in loco parentis? Well this is loco, so let me parent this. Let me at least talk to their parents about it – but if I do that on school time, in my professional capacity, I’m liable to be reprimanded.

 

I have studied standardized testing. It was part of my training to become a teacher. And the evidence is in. The academic world knows all this stuff is bunk, but the huge corporations that profit off of these tests and the associated test-prep material have silenced them.

 

I have a masters in my field. I’m a nationally board certified teacher. I have more than a decade of successful experience in the classroom. But I am not trusted enough to decide whether my students should take these tests.

 

It’s not like we’re even asking the parents. We start from the assumption that children will take the tests, but if the parents complain about it, we’ll give in to their wishes.

 

It’s insanity.

 

We should start from the assumption the kids won’t take the test. If parents want their kids to be cogs in the corporate machine, they should have to opt IN.

 

As a teacher, I can try to inform my students’ parents about all this, but at my own peril. If the administration found me talking about this with parents, I could be subject to a reprimand. Giving my honest educational opinion could result in me losing my job.

 

As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!

 

So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.

 

And it breaks my heart.

 

But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!

 

You would not believe the joy of opting out!

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15 thoughts on “The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing

  1. Your daughter is learning way more from her creative work than she ever would from any test. In fact, she wouldn’t learn anything from those tests.
    And neither the teachers nor the school are gong to learn anything useful about any of the kids from those tests.

    Like

    • PS. And you’re lucky that her school allows her to do this, as opposed to having to sit quietly and stare at the wall while the other kids are taking the tests.

      Like

      • No, they cannot. But that does not mean that they have to provide the student with such wonderful alternatives as Steven’s daughter was offered. They could have just made her sit there, with nothing else to do, as has been done in some school districts in other areas.

        Like

  2. Unless the corporate autocrats have spies in your classroom, all you have to do is carve out a little time now and then to do something creative for your students. I did it when I was still teaching.

    But if there is a microwave in the classroom, they might be watching you from the moon or whatever planet they originated from. My guess is, the planet the autocrats came from is called Hell.

    Like

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you! This retired teacher applauds you and wants to tell you how lucky your daughter is to have you. My own daughter, also a public school teacher, plans to opt her own kids out of the tests, knowing how pointless and damaging they are.

    Kudos to you!

    Like

  4. Thank you for this article. As a homeschooling Mom, I’ve opted out year after year. However, next week, the liberal mindset in this state is taking control of my custody battle and opting out is being used against me. Prayers sought.

    Like

  5. I am a retired School Psychologist. I worked most of my career in low income, minority, ESL districts and schools. Testing is a major part of my job. Standardized testing in Kindergarten? I am appalled.If the students are as you described, most of them don’t have the linguistic background to be learning reading, say little of testing with nonsense words. Beginning readers have great difficulty sounding out a word they don’t know. This is worse than a waste of time; It teaches children that school is no fun at all. All this standardized test is killing the joy of learning. The last year I worked I could walk down the entire elementary school and not hear a child laugh. That is wrong. In my opinion, I think
    standardized testing at the end of third, sixth, and ninth is adequate to assess the child’s progress and how good a job the school is doing. Other testing should be curriculum based, mostly teacher made test for checking individual child’s understanding and progress. Other standardized testing should be done by people like me only if there is a concern.

    Keep fighting for our kids. Learning should be interesting and fun.

    Like

  6. I have never been a big believer in grades, but they give a general idea of how a child is doing. Same with standardized tests. My son never got real good grades in grade or high school. His standardized tests were off
    The charts. Without them no one would have suspected his academic
    Prowess. He finally got good grades in college
    And grad school and
    Is an accomplished physicist. Personal evaluation and mentoring are most important for
    Children, but grades
    And tests can help
    Kids when used rationally, which isn’t always
    The case.

    Like

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