Before more parents jump on the bandwagon for opting their children out of state standardized tests, they should make sure they're doing what’s best for their children, and not what's best for the state teachers' unions.
In growing numbers, parents around the state are pulling their kids out of standardized tests. Some parents say they don't believe the exams are valuable, that they take too much time away from instruction, and that their children are overstressed at the prospect of taking the exams. These are legitimate reasons for opting out.
But parents should also be aware that this movement encouraging them to opt their children out of the exams is as much about politics as it is pragmatism, and that by supporting it, they might inadvertently be undermining the state's education reform efforts and jeopardizing their children's education.
Text anxiety is real
It's legitimate for parents to opt their kids out of the tests if their children are going to be harmed psychologically by taking the exams. Test anxiety is a real thing. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, about 16 to 20 percent of kids legitimately suffer from high anxiety over test taking. Don't believe hysterical claims that kids would prefer to lose a parent than take a test. All tests bring a degree of anxiety, and no one likes to take them.
But there are indeed kids who become stressed to the point where they become physically ill, freeze up during the tests, or simply can't focus enough to correctly answer the questions. The impact can be seen in their scores, which can be about 12 percentile points lower than kids without test anxiety, according to the association. If your child has those tendencies, by all means consider opting them out and seeking professional help to assist them in overcoming that anxiety.
Teachers unions are behind opt-out push
State teachers unions are strongly opposed to the testing, and it's not because of student test anxiety. Their opposition, in large part, is due to the fact that the exams are used by the state as a measurement tool to determine teacher effectiveness and competency.
The teachers unions claim that student performance on standardized tests should not be used in determining how well they're doing their jobs. They figure that the more parents who protest by holding their kids out of tests, the better they'll be able to make their case for tossing out the tests entirely as a measurement tool for teacher effectiveness.
It's true, according to educators, that standardized tests are not perfect, perhaps even far from perfect. State education officials have acknowledged that and are working to improve them. It's also true that teacher effectiveness cannot be solely determined by how students do on tests, good or bad. But in New York, testing is just one tool used in teacher evaluations, not the entire basis for them.
Yet student performance on tests can't be dismissed as a legitimate way to measure teacher performance. Managers in business, sports coaches, and elected officials are all judged on how well they're doing their jobs based on outcomes. When sales teams don't meet their quotas, the managers get reprimanded. When teams lose, coaches get fired. Performance is an acceptable measurement tool in our society, even for teachers.
Testing has value
Parents also must consider that the standardized tests, even in their present form, do have value to the educational system and to their children. They can be used as indicators to determine student readiness for the next educational challenges and to determine areas of the curriculum where instruction might be lacking. They also can be used to identify flaws in the questions and answers themselves, which could lead to more effective tests.
Since the tests will continue to be used in evaluations — whether the teachers like it or not — the more students who take the exam, the bigger sampling there is to determine whether the kids are learning what they're supposed to be learning and whether teachers are effective. If a large number of kids opt out, that could actually skew the evaluations negatively for teachers, according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis.
And if the goal of teachers unions is to eliminate standardized testing altogether, opting out likely won't do it. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said last week that the opt-out movement for the state-administered exams could force New York into having to adopt a national test — in which state education leaders and teachers unions have little to no input. Is that the best outcome for teachers or our kids?
Parents and their children are being used by the teachers unions against Gov. Andrew Cuomo as political leverage for what the unions want to accomplish with regard to standardized testing, particularly eliminating it or significantly reducing its influence as a tool in teacher evaluations.
Parents considering opting their children out of these tests should be aware of all the factors involved in their decision before acting, and make that decision accordingly.