More Parents Say No To Standardized Testing

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A growing number of parents and students are deciding to "opt out" of assessment tests in an effort to stem the rise of what they call a "toxic testing culture."

Pennsylvania saw a five-fold increase in parents "opting out" over the past three years. In New York, some 67,000 students - 5 percent of all students - sat out the statewide math test.

And it seems that some officials are paying attention. U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan pledged to urge Congress to set state testing limits.

But individual states aren't waiting for Washington to give them instructions. Just this week, a Maine lawmaker proposed a bill that requires schools to let parents know that they have the right to "opt out."

Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with Morna McDermott, founding organizer of the national "United Opt-Out" movement.

Interview Highlights: Morna McDermott

Why she is against standardized testing

"It’s sort of three-fold. There are the effects on children, including my own. There are the effects on teachers and schools. And then, you know, more broadly there’s the effects on society and what this is doing to public schools as one of our democratic institutions."

On how to respond in states where testing is required to advance

"That’s a tricky question, I’ll be honest. I think it’s going to require a lot of pushback in order to get that repealed. So if one or two parents do that, they may face the consequences of ‘gosh, is my child going to stay back?’ I would recommend that they look closely at the law and not just rely on what they’re being told. Most likely, that law is also going to say that there are other evaluative instruments that they use in determining a child moving from grade three to grade four, in addition to that test. And one of the reason we’re advocating for what we call sort of a refusal or a boycott of the testing, is in a large part because we’re using data from a test that study after study after study have shown are not necessarily reliable or valid in assessing what they claim to assess."

On how to measure U.S. students against other countries without tests

"The number one determining factor of how well you will do on your standardized test is your zip code."

"For example, we didn't really rely on standardized testing for much of anything prior to No Child Left Behind. So, how on earth is it that we became this global empire, the top dog, before we ever had standardized testing drive our curriculum? It’s not to say that we don’t have problems in our schools. We clearly have problems of equity and poverty. We have the highest segregation rates since Brown v. Board, but none of these problems will ever be resolved by test-driven policies."

On whether refusing to take a standardized test hurts schools or teachers

"I don’t know of any school that has been closed as a result of testing refusals. I know of no teacher that has been fired because the students refused the test. I know a lot of schools that have been closed because of failing test scores. I know a lot of teachers who have lost their jobs because of failing test scores. So the question shouldn't be, why would you refuse the test? The questions should be, why wouldn't you?"


This segment aired on February 27, 2015.


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