April 17, 2012

Opting Out of State Assessments - Not What You Think

Image Source: Flickr.com dmolsen

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely mine and do not indicate any position of another organization or employer.  I am also a teacher in a non-tested grade in New York.

I felt it last week. Like a fog rolling in. I saw it, I cannot deny that. As it neared I saw its tendrils (Tweets, blog posts, news articles) reach out and eventually the entire bank rolled in. I attempted to respond in Tweets and in blog comments, but there just wasn't enough space (or at that moment, enough time). So in an attempt to dissipate the fog bank, I'm sharing my thoughts below.

Across our nation, schools are either already immersed in or preparing themselves to administer state assessments.  You can feel it...you can even see it, 'Prep' rallies, suggestions for student incentives (let's just call them what they are, 'rewards') for attending school on assessment days abound on listservs, the sprinkling of 'fairy dust' in classrooms (I'm still not sure about THAT connection), the list goes on and on and on.

But what makes this year different from other years? A call to 'opt out'. Parents deciding that enough is enough and making the decision to not send their child to school on days when state assessments are administered. Before reading further, please take a moment to read Will Richardson's post, 'Opt Out' and then head over to Lee Kolbert's response, 'Dear Will Richardson'. This will help provide you with an idea of the dialogues occurring online. And while you're there, consider leaving a comment to continue the conversations.

Before you pass judgement, realize that I am by no means advocating for the 'snapshot model' of state assessments that determine so many things in a district. But please stay with me a moment longer.

'Opt Out' websites are popping up like crazy (go ahead, enter 'opt out state assessments' into a Google search to see for yourself).

Here are my issues: (keep in mind I'm in New York, and no part of my writing should be taken as legal advice)
1. Some of these websites provide only the most rudimentary of information. I've seen some of these websites copy/paste just snippets of regulations, often taken out of context. To me 'information is power', however, 'lack of information' can be disabling. If you aren't getting the full story, are you getting the story at all?

2.  From what I've read, yes, a parent has a constitutional right to keep their child from taking the state assessments. And yes, state assessment scores for tested grades below High School aren't reported to colleges.

But here's what is rarely shared:
1. For schools/districts - if your reported participation scores go down, that will negatively impact the complex formula which determines a school's AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), most especially if those who 'opted out' might have scored a 3 or a 4).  From where I sit, that means that we'll see an increase in schools failing to meet AYP.  Oftentimes AYP is directly tied into funding.

2. For schools/districts - Negative publicity - An ensuing media frenzy of reporting of schools not meeting AYP, community members reading reports will assume the school and/or teachers are inept, ineffective and overall worthless. GREAT! Just what we need! More bad publicity for education.

3. For teachers - With the new APPR (teacher evaluations) being negotiated and with 20% of a teacher's evaluation based on the scores of state assessments, there will be a negative impact on whether a teacher is rated 'Highly Effective', 'Effective', 'Developing', or 'Ineffective'. (Opt out = lower rating) Do we really want a repeat of that media frenzy?

4. For students - Opting out could result in the student being placed in AIS (Academic Intervention Services) classes. And guess what?!? The parent MAY NOT have their child opt out of this!
Retrieved from:
"53. What is a district’s responsibility if a parent objects to having his/her child receive academic intervention services?
 Placement in educational programs during the regular school day, however, remains the responsibility of the district and school."
And in some districts, particularly at the Middle School level, with AIS being provided during the school day, due to scheduling, if a student requires AIS services they are unable to take Art (or another humanities class).

If you're so inclined, please consider leaving a comment. You can agree, respectfully disagree, provide links to more information, or perhaps you have an idea for a means by which we can change the state of testing in this country, without resulting in such negative results. 

And if I haven't taken up too much of your time, please consider filling out Diane Main's crowd-sourced form, 'Consequences of Opting Out of State Standardized Testing'.


Brian C. Smith said...

I understand the risks and consequences here, however, don't you think that schools and administrators are being strong-handed here? The very consequences you give paint a picture of this dictatorial control of public education. Do they not?

You're correct in your blog title... it's most certainly not what the general public thinks. It's not about children. It's not about learning. It's about funding.

Nothing changes without consequence. When will educators stand up together for children?

Digital Diva said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. And I do agree with everything you say, EXCEPT 'when will educators....'. I think it's time that it's more than just the educators that stand up. And I think that educators DO stand up for our students.

But I really do feel that the opt-out option is not the way to go about doing it.

There are days when I am disillusioned by the state of education, but then I walk into my classroom and am surrounded by these amazing individuals (my students) and I realize why I continue to believe.