Teacher: Opt-out movement in testing creates culture of disrespect in classroom

Last night, I posted a long piece by a Georgia parent on why she was opting her third-grader out of state tests this year.

Take a look if you did not read the piece. The parent is not opposed to testing, but faults the design and length of the Georgia Milestones Assessment System.

I received her essay the same day as getting a note from a Georgia teacher questioning the opt-out movement and what it communicates to students. The teacher worries the movement is creating a culture of disrespect in the classroom, and she believes it's the wrong response to assessment reform. With her permission, I am sharing her comments below.

The opt-out movement is strongest in New York and California. It is a fledgling movement in Georgia. My AJC colleague Eric Stirgus reports only 75 Gwinnett students out of the 76,000 taking Milestones this month opted out of the testing. Several metro parents have sent me notes to report stern warnings from their school systems about the consequences of opting out, which they say discourages them from doing so. In DeKalb, 19 students out of 80,000 opted out of testing this week, according to the district.

My district never made a big deal of state tests, whether CRCT or Milestones. No pep rallies. No exhaustive prep. No drill-and-kill. As a result, I've treated standardized state exams as practice for the consequential tests awaiting my kids in high school  -- college admissions and AP and IB tests.

But I didn't have kids who lost sleep over the tests. Had the Milestones or CRCTs stressed and overwhelmed my children, I may have felt differently. While I've talked to teachers who say they rarely have students in tears or vomiting over tests, I've also met teachers who have seen both and say it's not pretty.

With that background, here is what the teacher wrote:

The fever pitch of the opt-outers is driving me nuts.

Our promotion criteria says the test is used for promotion in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade. So, yes, we tell kids they have to pass the test to be promoted. That's not bullying or lies. That's the truth. I understand that a parent has a right to opt-out. I understand that a parent has a right to appeal a retention decision. Those are rare cases.

These people are creating a culture where it's normal for students to walk into our classrooms and challenge our authority. I hear it every day. It gets louder and louder every year. "I don't have to take that test. I don't have to pass. I don't have to do that work. My mom will just schedule a meeting at the end of the year and force the school to do what I want."

This is why classrooms are out of control. This is why teachers feel disrespected. This is why teachers leave the profession.

These opt-outers think they are leading a fight to save Georgia. Sadly, no. They are ruining the next generation in the process. Children should not be used as a pawn in a fictitious boycott against a company.

The opt-outers keep citing outlandish stories of test anxiety and kids soiling pants and such. In all my years of teaching, I have seen no such thing. Yes, we do test prep. The kids who care ask for it. A little bit of nervousness before a big test is normal. Our theater teacher has a saying, "If you're not nervous before a show, something is wrong." The same rule applies here.

To try to understand their side, I've been reading the posts and comments on the Opt-Out Facebook group (Because, let's be honest, Milestones is not perfect, and there are a few scenarios where I can understand opting out based on medical needs.) I saw frequent posts that were misleading, misquoted, and rebel rousing.

I have several friends who repost the Opt-Out comments and material. Again, I question. Those friends told me to stop. It seems this group only wants to discuss one side.

I would be very interested to see the AJC investigate the group and the claims. I would be very interested to see some stories reflecting both sides of the argument. I would love to see high-stakes testing go away just as much as the next educator.

But this is not the way. It is ruining the culture in our schools.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.