Editorials

'Opting out' a strong backlash to overzealous standardized testing

Language arts students at Carver Middle School in Miami-Dade County prepare for the state assessments. Across Florida, parents are pushing back on standardized tests. Some say schoolchildren are taking too many exams. Others have concerns about the quality of the tests, and the way the results are being used. CHARLOTTE SOUTHERN THE MIAMI HERALD
Language arts students at Carver Middle School in Miami-Dade County prepare for the state assessments. Across Florida, parents are pushing back on standardized tests. Some say schoolchildren are taking too many exams. Others have concerns about the quality of the tests, and the way the results are being used. CHARLOTTE SOUTHERN THE MIAMI HERALD

More and more impassioned parents are sending a loud message to the people in charge of education policy not only in Florida but across the nation: Scale back the excessive use of high-stakes standardized tests. Families are putting some muscle behind their opposition by "opting out" of the tests, with students simply refusing to take the exams.

This is civil disobedience at its finest. Last year's botched rollout of tougher tests aligned with the Florida State Standards, based on Common Core, is indicative of a flawed education system. The opt-out numbers reflect the growing dissatisfaction with more than 20,000 exams unscored in 2015, up from around 5,500 the year before, Herald education writer Meghin Delaney reported Sunday in a widely read article. This year's testing began last week.

There's even an "Opt Out Manatee" Facebook page administered by Amy Lee, the parent of an eighth-grader and 10th-grader. Students who do opt-out must "sit and stare" after breaking the seal on a test and signing their names, wasting up to two hours of their time.

The time students spend on standardized tests is staggering. The Council of the Great City Schools, which comprises 66 of the country's biggest school districts, conducted the first comprehensive survey of those districts and found a typical student takes 112 mandated standardized exams between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade.

The survey, released in October, looked at the number of hours each grade spends on these required assessments. The figure peaked at 25.3 hours for eighth-graders, who take 10.3 tests on average. Third to 11th grade all scored above 20 hours. These figures do not include quizzes or tests created by teachers.

Overtesting robs students of valuable classroom instruction. Student stress and anxiety has become too much for many parents. Educators are forced to teach to the tests since their performance evaluations are partially based on student scores. Fortunately, opt-out tests do not count in either teacher evaluations or school grades.

In light of that survey, President Obama remarked then: In "moderation, smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids' progress in school, and it can help them learn. But I also hear from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that."

Florida's Legislature and the state Department of Education should fix that here. The teacher and school accountability justification for the tests wears thin in the face of all the drawbacks.

In January, the Florida Education Association staged a rally in Tallahassee to tell lawmakers "enough is enough" on testing. Parents, teachers and community leaders from across Florida attended.

In remarks before the rally, FEA President Joanne McCall pointed out the troublesome dilemma: "Florida is cheating our children out of their education ... because we are obsessed with how well they test rather than how well they learn."

The opt-out movement further indicates Tallahassee is out of step with the people.

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