Monday, February 22, 2016

A Modest Opt-In Proposal

This Friday United Opt Out, which describes itself as "a focused point of unyielding resistance to corporate ed. reform," is hosting a conference in Philadelphia with sessions like “Capitalism’s Educational Catastrophe: And the Advancing Endgame Revolt!” I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that the endgame of UOO and affiliated groups is to derail mandated course content and assessments aligned with college and career-ready standards. It’s all very Ted Cruz/Rand Paul:  keep your friggin’ hands off our classrooms and teaching evaluations! Hence, the “opt out movement,” which urges parents to refuse Common Core tests for their children and inserts an "us" vs. "them" zeitgeist within the public education arena.

So, how about a compromise?

In New Jersey, opt-out rates among third-eighth graders were low last year, under 5%, not much  different than pre-Common Core-aligned testing windows. But rates soared among 11th graders to over 14%. The rates were especially high in wealthy suburbs. For example, at Princeton High School 800 out of 1,164 high school students refused the tests. "The vast majority of opt-outs are taking place in non-urban, non-disadvantaged districts,” said NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollmer, “because parents tend to be better informed in those districts and tend to communicate among themselves a lot more.”

New Jersey requires exit exams for high school graduation and has for many years..According to current D.O.E. regulations, students can choose among PARCC, ACT, SAT, as well as Accuplacer (used for community college placement) and the military qualifying exam until 2018. This is why so many high school students in "non-urban, non-disadvantaged districts" refused PARCC: why take the test when they're already taking another one that  fulfills graduation requirements?

While technically the option to substitute ACT or SAT for PARCC sunsets in 2018, all are aligned with  college and career-ready standards, and so students will be assessed on this course content regardless of the test they opt into.  In addition, high school students are usually chafing at the bit for independent decision-making. Isn’t 11th grade a great time to give them an opportunity for choice?

So here’s an idea:continue to allow high school students to opt into PARCC, SAT's, or ACT's in order to qualify for a diploma. We diffuse the politics of opt-out mania, concentrated in high schools, and sustain accountability for college and career-ready standards. Now that's an endgame.

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