These questions vary from state to state, and it’s harder than you think to get the cold, hard facts. The actual effects of the test results and of opting out aren’t easy to pin down, as conflicting information rages across the web.
Those in favor of opting out cite increasing concern that the incessant in-class preparation for the tests is chipping away at instruction hours that could and should be better spent. It’s a strong argument, and one I agree with, as teachers are forced to abandon other learning opportunities as they teach to the test. The problem, though, is that opting out doesn’t change any of that immediately, as it’s really a long term, policy-changing play and won’t affect what’s happening in the classroom right now. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing, if you feel strongly enough.
One of the other big issues is within the tests themselves, where the questions are notoriously ambiguous. In New York State, where the debate burns brightly, 545 school principals signed a statement noting that many of them and their teachers couldn’t agree on the correct answers on the tests.
I’m a member of a local moms group on Facebook, where the test talk ranges from detailed reasons for opting out with links to organizations that can help you along, to questions about what to feed your children on the days of the tests and how to prevent them from getting too stressed out about them. The school has told us to give our kids a good, healthy breakfast on the test days, which is good advice under any circumstances, so that’s not much help. I think in many cases it’s the parents who are giving stress to the kids as they worry and prep and talk about it endlessly in front of them. We don’t talk about it much with our 6th grader, who’s a smart kid and a great student but a bad standardized test-taker, as he finds them tedious and rushes through them. He’s an 11-year-old boy, so this seems pretty normal to me. Luckily for us, his low scores don’t actually affect his future education options, but it’s not that way for everyone in the country.
As the rules, results, and consequences are different from state to state, the best option for parents is to go online and research exactly what it means for your school and your teachers. There’s a process to opting out, and it’s not as simple as just keeping your kid home, so be diligent and do your research before jeopardizing anything within your local education system. If you are going to have your kids take the test, please try not to freak them out too much.
And if you’re still on the fence, maybe the opinion expressed so eloquently by 9-year-old Sydney Smoot to her local school board in Hernando County, Florida, will help you make up your mind.