Testing Season and Why Everyone Should Opt Out

Testing season at my elementary school begins after February break and ends with the conclusion of the state math tests in mid-April. Like many schools, our students are subject to test prep “units” at this time of year that include practice tests, stamina building exercises and test taking skill “explorations.” It is the worst time of year for teachers, students and families, yet at my school, inexplicably, no one is speaking out and no one is opting out.

So to parents out there, here’s what really happens in testing season…

  1. No one teaches science or social studies for 3 months. The number of teachers who have told me ” Oh I’m only doing read alouds for science because of test prep” or “we’ll do that activity after testing” is disturbingly high. This time of year, its all about those 3 Rs. This is a reality across the board- whether schools do a test prep “unit” or do test prep all year- science and social studies always get cut. 30 years from now when we are faced with the next global warming like debate, we can thank high stakes testing for our ignorance.
  2. Reading, writing and math become exclusively pencil and paper tasks and last all day. Reading, writing and math can and should be engaging and meaningful, but in test prep season kids often don’t get to choose what they read or write about, and are fed poorly written passage after passage. Kids should be reading books! Not passages followed by short responses and multiple choice questions. Besides, what’s the point of writing if you’re not allowed to write about anything interesting? ( like STORIES! Remember when kids used to write stories?)
  3. No trips, no fun,  no emotional support. There is so much pressure on teachers to get high scores- so not only is the academic curriculum narrowed to ELA and math, but many teachers sacrifice all the things that keep kids motivated and foster social skills- like trips, games and opportunities for play. At my school we’re not allowed to go on trips with 3rd-5th graders for all of testing season. We all know that what children need to learn is uninterrupted practice with reading packets and multiple choice questions… Oh wait, is that it?
  4. Even students who have disabilities, or are English language learners have to test prep. Even if they can’t read. At all. They have to “practice”  too. I had a student cry for over 30 minutes the other day because his classroom teacher was going to make him finish his ELA packet. He is a smart and vivacious kid who is normally super excited to come to my class and always had great ideas. But he cried for the whole period. The whole period.
  5. The homework gets insane. Like packets on top of packets. Plus many schools have Saturday classes for extra test prep! Because every day and night is not enough!
  6. Everyone is grumpy.  This might not seem important, but you try teaching 30 grumpy, jittery, stressed out kids or leading a staff meeting with angry, sleep deprived teachers. Let me know how that goes.
  7. Finally, it trickles down. All this testing frenzy does absolutely trickle down to the younger grades. Especially in testing season. It is around this time of year that the administration “suggests” incorporating testing language and skills for kids as young as pre-k and we are told to plan ways for first graders to be more “test ready.”

I recently had a conversation with a parent about the impending state tests. This is a parent who has told me that she is thinking about withdrawing both her children from our school and sending them to a progressive private school because, as she put it,  “they’re bored.”

She said that she wasn’t planning on opting out her children because they hadn’t expressed any specific anxieties about taking the tests. Then she told me that they don’t like school anymore and that is why she is thinking about transferring to a private school.

Parents out there- if your child is bored at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child is especially frustrated and emotional at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child has suddenly stopped going on trips or learning anything in science and social studies, it is because of testing. If your child is coming home with boatloads of homework that make no sense to you, it is because of testing. If your child hates school and finds it all too hard and confusing, that’s probably in some part because of testing too. If any of this sounds all too familiar- you should OPT YOUR KID OUT.

Send a message that a narrowed, autocratic, undifferentiated, and developmentally inappropriate curriculum is not OK for any child!

There are some lucky schools out there where the administration eschews test prep and almost all the students opt out. And you know what they do at those schools?  They teach. And learn. Real stuff. Projects. Science. Social Studies. Critical thinking. Art.

All children deserve real learning. All children deserve differentiated teaching that meets their needs, not the agendas of corporate reformers. All children deserve to be engaged, respected and inspired at school.  Even during testing season. OPT OUT.





7 comments on “Testing Season and Why Everyone Should Opt Out

  1. Dana Robbins says:

    What a travesty of education. Probsbly parents are afraid if they opt out their child will be at a competitive disadvantage which is why all the parents should opt out at once. If a few brave parents opted out, others would follow.

  2. Sarah N. says:

    I am so glad I found your blog. That comment in another post about college readiness really needing to be about sex ed – BRILLIANT.

    What happens to a student when the parent has insisted they opt out? Where do they go? What do they do? What about all those hours in the classroom that the teacher is doing test prep? What does the opt-out kid do then?

    My children attend a public school in Florida where the principal is obsessed with these tests. The first day of kindergarten my daughter was taught the term “multiple choice.” And it is considered one of the best schools in the state. Ugh!

    • Thank you so much for this comment! In New York City, schools are required to provide students with an “alternative educational activity” if they opt out. What that means varies by school. In schools where most students opt out, it can be a regular day, but in schools with just a handful of students they usually end up reading or spending a few hours in a non-testing grade. As far as test prep- that also probably varies depending on the number of students who opt out and the culture of the school.

      That story about your daughter is horrifying! There are so many important things children need to learn in kindergarten- but answering multiple choice questions is not one of them!

  3. […] Source: Testing Season and Why Everyone Should Opt Out […]

  4. Elainem says:

    Note: even if kids opt out, they are still subject to all of the test prep leading up to the exams!

  5. jennifer w says:

    Forget skipping Science and Social Studies to prepare for the test, I’m in an elementary school where social studies is never taught. On the official schedule, it says social studies is the second half of last period but we never get to it because math ends up taking two periods. This kills me day in and day out.

  6. […] covering various topics that may better and enrich students’ education. A member of my blog roll, Pedogogyofthereformed urges students to opt out of the required testing as they feel they are completely ineffective. […]

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