First of all, if your mind went to the gutter, jump out of there! This is a family blog:-}
The title of this post is referring to a word that may be used with some level of frequency this spring.
Opt Out, Opt Out, Opt Out! Yeah, I said it. . . and I plan on saying it a lot more.
We know the general meaning of the phrase “opt out.” It simply means to choose not to participate in something. It has been recently modeled for us very effectively by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Here are some examples of this phrase in a sentence:
President Obama decided to allow the US Justice Department to opt out of enforcement of federal immigration and drug laws. Governor Mary Fallin made the decision to have Oklahoma opt out of the federal Medicaid healthcare program (Obamacare). State Superintendent Janet Barresi decided to opt out Oklahoma students from the math double testing required by federal law. All kinds of people in government are very comfortable with opting out of things they find objectionable.
Unfortunately, these same people would prefer you and I not use this word when it comes to things they want us to do.
When nearly half of Jenks Middle School PARENTS chose to have their child opt out of state field testing last April, some people at the OSDE became rather agitated, to the point where they began casting out wild aspersions and threats of repercussions upon school administrators who “allowed” these parents to make this choice. Can you imagine that?
For this reason, I would never overtly encourage any parent or student to refuse to participate in state-mandated testing. As a public school administrator, it is my statutory obligation to follow all laws, rules, and procedures related to the Oklahoma State Testing Program. Therefore, this spring my school will diligently provide each and every child the opportunity to take all required operational assessments, as well as any “
item tryouts” field tests which are scheduled afterwards.
In short, I have not and would not tell any student or parent to opt out of state testing.
But Diane Ravitch would. In her national blog HERE (which incidentally just went over 10,000,000 views), Diane has published dozens of articles related to Opt Out campaigns in other states. When you get some time, take some time to see what she and many others she cites on her blog have to say about parents opting their children out of excessive standardized testing.
Another source of information relative to parents’ rights relative to this issue is the website unitedoptout.com.
At the same time, I want to make sure readers know that the decision to opt a child out of state testing may have implications. A parent in another community has been engaged in a conversation with the state department about possibly opting his third grade child out of the upcoming reading test. Here is the most recent response he received from Kimberly Richey, the SDE General Counsel.
Let me dissect what Ms. Richey has communicated here.
1. Schools districts are required to provide a test to every student in a tested grade.
2. No opt out option is available through the OSDE.
3. Requests to opt out must be handled by the local school district. The district must still provide the student an opportunity to take the test. If the child refuses, the district must document the refusal.
4. A third grade student must score above the unsatisfactory level, or meet one of the six good cause exemption, to be promoted to fourth grade.
According to state statute, Ms. Rickey is absolutely on points 1-3. In fact, federal law requires districts to test 95% of every subgroup. Further, as part of the state A-F school grading system, schools that fail to test at least 95% will drop one letter grade; schools testing under 90% earn an automatic failing grade. I will come back to this in a moment.
Point #4 is open to interpretation. Here is the actual language from State Statute 70-1210.508C that Ms. Ritchey cites as her source:
Beginning with students entering the first grade in the 2011-2012
school year, if the reading deficiency of a student, as identified based on
assessments administered as provided for in subsection B of this section, is
not remedied by the end of third grade, as demonstrated by scoring at the
unsatisfactory level on the reading portion of the statewide third-grade
criterion-referenced test, the student shall be retained in the third grade.
Notice the distinction? The SDE legal counsel contends that a student “must score above the unsatisfactory level” while the statute seems to say that a student will be retained only if they score at the unsatisfactory level. So, what does this mean for students who have no score at all? What about a student who enrolls from a private school or a home school setting at the beginning of fourth grade? Will they automatically be retained because they don’t have a third grade score? Or will they be allowed to enroll in fourth grade because they did not score unsatisfactory?
I realize this is a semantic exercise, but aren’t nearly all laws prone to semantic interpretation? If the home school option is accepted, then what about a student who is withdrawn from third grade on April 9th, the day before testing, then re-enrolled by his or her parents on April 24th, the day after testing for third grade reading closes? The child will have no score. Will they be promoted to fourth grade because they did not score unsatisfactory or retained in third grade because they didn’t have a score above unsatisfactory? Interesting question, huh?
Also, since the child is not enrolled in the school at the time of testing, his failure to take the test would also not factor into the 95% testing requirement.
Now, lets talk about opt out in the context of field tests or item tryouts. As I have shared in previous blogs, the use of stand-along field tests has been shown through research to be far less accurate and valid than the practice of embedding field test questions within an operational test. This is because students know that the tests don’t count. After 20-25 days of disrupted school due to operational testing, how anxious do you think students will be to participate in these new item tryouts?
Any results from these tests are used by the testing company to validate their items for future operational tests. As a result, the scores are not used for accountability purposes. The students do not receive a score; the teacher never sees the questions or answers; and students’ results have no part in school A-F calculations. Furthermore, when CTB/McGraw-Hill went to New York last year to field test their new high school equivalency test (to replace the GED), they PAID high school seniors $80 to participate. Why are our students and schools not compensated for our lost of instructional time?
Like I said in the beginning, I am not trying to encourage any parent to make the decision to opt their child out of field testing. Jenks Middle School will be providing every student with a test and will ask them to do their best.
However, at some point, we need to send a message. A message that we are fed up with the current hyper-testing environment that disrupts teaching and learning in our school for six to ten weeks a year. We would like people in charge of education policy to honestly explore the results of the this overemphasis on testing and reverse their course.
Alas, it won’t happen. Over the last dozen years No Child Left Behind and its Democratic step-brother, Race to the Top have not improved America’s education as promised. Charter schools don’t do better than traditional public schools. Vouchers don’t improve public schools through competition. There’s still an achievement gap. Punishing students, teachers and schools for low test scores hasn’t incentivized higher achievement. Testing, testing, and more testing hasn’t helped anyone except test developers, publishers, distributors and their donations to the campaign coffers of politicians.
The “no-excuses,” pro-privatization, so-called “reformers” easily ignore any actual research and use the power of the media and money from billionaires to lay the blame on parents, educators, or some vague “education bureaucracy”. These so-called reformers are more interested in the corporate bottom line than the academic success of children.
Maybe I am overly optimistic, but, like Diane, I feel the ground shifting. I feel the beginning of a grassroots rebellion that will sweep away the bad ideas that are ruining the lives of children, teachers, principals, and communities.
It all starts with YOU and the “O” word!