Many parents think standardized tests waste their children's time, but many school districts depend on the tests to measure achievement.
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What Happens when Parents Opt Their Children Out of Standardized Tests

By Caitrin Blake

Few things put parents and schools more at odds than standardized tests. Parents see the tests as pointless because they teach little more than how to take a standardized test. Yet schools know these tests can determine their ability to stay afloat: If students fail the test, the school could lose funding, get put on probation or, in rare cases, shut down entirely. Furthermore, tests can directly affect a teacher’s job or salary, making them doubly stressful.

All the while, because these tests have such high stakes and so many teachers stressing their importance, they can make students extremely anxious. Ultimately, parents want the right and ability to opt their students out of high-stakes testing, but often they’re stuck dealing with rules and regulations that make it difficult or undesirable for their children.

School administrators and teachers may actually sympathize with parents’ desire to opt out (and many dread the testing days themselves), but they also recognize that a great deal is at stake as a result of these tests.

Opposition from parents

Parents want schools to do what they are built for: educating children. Many parents think days of testing to determine funding and student achievement don’t exactly promote student learning. Other parents worry about all the pressure on students to do well on the exams. Still others object to school districts or the government tracking the students in such a way.

Regardless of their individual motivations, lots of parents feel they should have the right to determine whether their children participate in testing, and that students should be allowed to use that time to learn or complete work in lieu of taking the test.

However, many school districts have rules about what students who opt out are allowed to do. Many students who choose to opt out of the exam have to sit quietly at their desks while the other students take the test. Some school districts allow students to take out a book and read after sitting for half an hour. Such rules, called “sit-and-stare” policies, infuriate parents who would rather their children use the time to read or work on school projects.

Other schools require students who opt out of tests to leave the school premises during the exam, which forces parents to drop off and pick up students at odd hours of the day. For many parents who work, it’s simply impossible to leave work and care for their children while other children take an exam. Testing — or the ability to opt out of testing — then becomes a right of the privileged.

Opposition from school administrators & teachers

Many parents receive a lot of pushback from school administrators if they decide to opt out of tests. Many schools are simply following the letter of the law when they enforce sit-and-stare policies or encourage attendance. Many states mandate that participating in public education means taking part in exams. As such, students skipping these tests can be considered truant and in violation of state laws.

“Sit and stare” policies also can reflect schools trying to maintain a fair environment for all students. They don’t want to give the impression that op-out students are enjoying some kind of reward or get to do something more fun than taking the test.

Even if administrators sympathize with parents’ desire to opt out, they know just how much is at stake as a result of these tests. While not every test or district uses these exams to determine teachers’ salaries or future, many schools see these exams as a proxy for how well teachers do their job. Poor attendance during exams can be recorded as a zero, reducing overall scores and threatening funding or ratings.

Teachers often see tests from both perspectives. They understand the importance of tests in determining funding or illustrating teacher potential or growth, but they also applaud parents who challenge the convention of testing because they recognize how problematic it is. Ultimately, many teachers recognize the need for the system to change, and they see parents as the ones who are able to promote change.

In an ideal world, there would be other ways to test whether schools and teachers are doing their jobs. However, until we can objectively measure student achievement without testing, districts will continue to test students and parents will continue to object.

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