Why We’re ‘Opting Out’: Our Kids Aren’t Guinea Pigs

Common CoreIf you have a school aged child, know a school aged child or know someone with a school aged child, you’ve probably heard two words thrown about a lot lately: opting out. But what are they opting out of? And why?

The first answer is simple: the common core state tests thrown at kids in grades three through eight, day after day after day of children being stuck in a room, pencils in hand, mouths zippered shut, being forced to answer question after question after question.

The second answer is more complicated. Why would we opt our kids out of tests? Don’t tests track students’ progress? What’s so bad about that?

It’s true, a test can track students’ progress. Unfortunately because of these tests, education in America is slowly but surely shifting away from a broad spectrum look at what students’ need to know to teaching “to the test.” After all, these standardized tests are important, with a capital I, so teachers are being forced to teach what is on the test and only that which is on the test. Curriculum are being narrowed, content mastery being limited, and curiosity about anything beyond the realm of “the test” is being discouraged.

Yes, we’re discouraging kids from learning more because they need to do better on one set of tests. Right here in Sullivan County, I received reports of schools suspending enrichment programs in the weeks up to the test because they wanted the kids to hyperfocus on filling out little bubbles, of regular homework being replaced with “test prep” — also weeks before the test.

To be clear, they’re not learning. According to one study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, elementary school students were considered “actively” engaged in learning if they asked questions of themselves while they read and tried to connect what they were doing to past learning. They were considered “superficially” engaged if they just copied down answers, guessed a lot, and skipped the hard parts. When the researchers looked at students who scored high marks on standardized tests, they found they were more likely to be kids who “exhibited the superficial approach to learning.”

Standardized tests kill critical thinking.

And what of the tests themselves? They’re long. They’re stressful. So stressful that in third grade my child developed both headaches and stomachaches as she worried herself into a frenzy, telling me, “I don’t want to let my school down.” And this from a “good” student who has always fared well in school. I can only wonder how much more pressure is being felt by children who struggle at school, who are being thrown to the wolves for little more than an easy means for the state and federal governments to decide what schools they should bother supporting and which they can write off.

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As if we shouldn’t “throw” the same resources at them all, regardless of how well they fare, because they are Americans and one of the great promises is a free education? See, the standardized tests don’t test our kids. They test the system.

This is why I’ve opted out my fourth grader this year. But I’m far from alone. In fact, I decided to ask a number of Sullivan County parents to share why it is they too have opted out their kids.

Here are their answers:

From the mother of a 10-year-old: “From the start of school he talks about this test and worries about it.  Why have him take a test that means nothing to his grade or graduating? If they want to evaluate the teachers then give them a test and show up in there classroom and evaluate then that way.  Don’t stess out the kids!”

From a father of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-0ld: “The call for the 12-year-old was made mostly due to added stress. Her work load in the seventh grade is already heavy, adding the weight of a meaningless test in every subject wasn’t even a debate. As for the 10-year-old, he has always done very well on the state tests. However, it became a matter of principle and standing together to support the cause.”

From the mother of an eighth grader: ” I support my teachers and administrators, and I support my children. While the underlying premise of having a national educational standard to which schools should aspire is a laudable one, the state’s implementation of the common core curriculum, particularly with its dependence on these commercially-developed standardized tests, is seriously flawed –  to the detriment of the schools, their faculty, and – ultimately – the students.  ”

From the mother of a fourth grader: “We are appalled at how the daily curriculum has been impacted in order to prepare for the state tests.  Our son, who is in the fourth grade, no longer has science or social studies classes. Instead that time is used to drill for the ELA and Math exams. .. Teachers are no longer able to respond to their students’ needs and adapt their methods accordingly. Instead, their time allocation is dictated by the Common Core schedule.”

From the mother of a 12-year-old: “I can’t stand by and watch people that have no background in education make the decisions that impact how and what our kids are taught. Teachers’ expertise and observations are no longer considered valued, but a score on a test matters. If a teacher is rated ineffective one year, he will need to be sure that the scores improve the next year or his career will be over. Of course he will teach to the test. Forget science experiments and taking advantage of teachable moments. Those poor children will know that if they don’t do well enough, their teacher is history. No matter how many hearts he has touched or how many students consider him effective.

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Our kids do the work. Our kids lose the extra instruction. Our kids are used as guinea pigs. To test the system. And the message our children, the children we encourage at home (and to be very fair, at school … teachers are hamstrung by these tests) to love learning, are being given is that they don’t matter. Their stress. Their angst. Their frustration is OK because the SYSTEM must be protected, must be tested.

We seem to have forgotten that without children, there is no school system …

Did you opt out? Why or why not?



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