by David Safier
It's great to see this AP story on the Star front page: More parents opting kids out of standardized tests. Not because it's new news. Grumblings about our obsession with standardized testing has been growing for awhile now, spreading from progressive educators to increasing numbers of teachers and more recently to parents. It's great because the Star considers it front page news, and the AP story has been picked up by papers and other media outlets across the country. It's the first national MSM acknowledgement of the growing anti-testing trend I've seen, meaning the movement is growing larger and louder.
The opt-out movement, as it is called, is small but growing. It has been brewing for several years via word of mouth and social media, especially through Facebook. The "Long Island opt-out info" Facebook page has more than 9,200 members . . . In Washington, D.C., a group of parents and students protested outside the Department of Education. Students and teachers at a Seattle high school boycotted a standardized test, leading the district superintendent to declare that city high schools have the choice to deem it optional. In Oregon, students organized a campaign persuading their peers to opt out of tests, and a group of students in Providence, R.I., dressed like zombies and marched in front of the State House to protest a requirement that students must achieve a minimum score on a state test in order to graduate.
When a bunch of eggheaded educational theorists state their philosophical objections to high stakes testing, it's just a bunch of eggheads blathering. When teachers and teacher unions complain, it's just a bunch of lazy teachers who don't want to be held accountable. But when it's parents complaining about the emphasis on standardized tests stressing out their children and taking up valuable time with test prep, practice tests, more test prep, then real tests that could be better spent on real education, it's something else again. It's got legs.
Which puts us at an odd juncture.
On one hand, it's possible that the standardized testing mania which began in Texas and was foisted on the county by George W. Bush has peaked and is ready to begin its gradual descent into the annals of failed educational cure-alls. I mean, look, all that testing hasn't been an effective educational tool. As a matter of fact, the one U.S. test most people agree is the only test worth paying attention to — the NAEP — says our students' progress in reading and math has stalled over the past 4 years after 40 years of gradual growth.
On the other hand, here comes the Common Core, revved up and ready to go. It sets up a series of national educational standards — nothing especially bad about that — and it means a whole new set of tough high stakes tests to be taken by students across the country, which presents a serious problem. Bye bye old tests people have begun to tire of. Hello brand new tests which have the potential to create a No-Child-Left-Behind-on-steroids situation that could be more destructive than what it replaces.
Right now, the anti-Common Core movement is growing faster than the anti-test movement, with the far right joining with many progressives and unions — what a strange bunch of bedfellows! — in reacting against the Common Core. Yes, Glenn Beck and Diane Ravitch agree, the Common Core is bad news. They have different concerns, but it means Common Core advocates from Obama/Duncan to Brewer/Huppenthal are caught in the political equivalent of a Pincer Maneuver with enemy forces attacking them from the left and the right. Some states are beginning to have second thoughts about opting in, and others are facing heat they didn't expect (Huppenthal has gone on a whirlwind state-wide speaking tour to sell Common Core to the right flank of his party. It's not going well). Common Core could either prolong the life of high stakes testing or speed its demise.