Maybe It's Time to Opt-Out of the Opt-Out Spin Machine

Sometimes the whole opt-out thing feels like just so much spin.

Those who advocate parent boycotts  preach that state standardardized tests reduce children to “just a score” and  unfairly punish teachers, and compromise  classroom creativity.  Those who advocate participation in state standardized tests (guilty as charged) preach that boycotts, however well-intentioned, undermine state efforts to identify low-performing schools and traditionally-disenfranchised cohorts (children of color or with disabilities) who are rendered invisible in aggregation. What gets counted counts. We treasure what we measure.

New York and New Jersey are in the midst of this annual cycle of  state testing and, predictably, the spinmeisters are ahum. The Wall St. Journal reports that”the number of students who opted out of state tests in Long Island rose to more than 97,500 this week, according to tallies by test-refusal advocates—or about half of the students in grades three through eight.” The Long Island Opt-Out Facebook page crows, “can you hear us now? 207,271 ELA grades 3-8 tests refused!”

On the other side of the Hudson, Save Our Schools-NJ has a “nice and naughty” list of districts that facilitate test refusals. NJEA writes on its blog, “T.S. Eliot famously called April the cruelest month, and for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey public school children who will be subjected once again to the PARCC, truer words were never spoken. “

Let’s all take a deep breath. While I understand the sense of urgency in declaring victory over  either 1)  privatization scoundrels or 2) elitist suburban parents, we might want to forgo hasty conclusions based on preliminary data. By August state departments of education will have real numbers on district-by-district percentages of test refusals. Then we can huddle in our respective corners and conjure up talking points and counter-narratives.

Or maybe we shouldn’t. What if we accepted that annual standardized testing is here to stay (it is, after all, inscribed in the new federal education law called ESSA), that tests have merits as well as limitations, that teachers should be assessed with multiple measures, and that we will respectfully collaborate on improving the ways to measure student growth?  Isn’t that more palatable than screeds and broadsides? Wouldn’t our kids be better off if their parents weren’t fighting?

We can do so much better than this.