Opinion: Georgia parents can refuse Milestones testing for their kids

Students across the state will be taking Milestones test in April and May. AJC file photo

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Students across the state will be taking Milestones test in April and May. AJC file photo

Schools across Georgia are readying their students for the annual testing, which is required under federal law. In a guest column, a DeKalb parent explains why her two children will not be sitting for tests this year.

Georgia students take the Milestones test, and there is no official policy that allows them to opt out. However, the state Department of Education provides guidance for what schools must do if parents refuse the test.

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a significant number of the 1.3 million students old enough to be tested on the Milestones didn’t take them, skipping more than 800,000 of the exams given in English, math, science and social studies. As a result of the pandemic, parents faced no consequences for opting out their kids out of the Milestones and scores were stripped of their influence over high school course grades, and over decisions about the promotion or retention of younger students and in evaluations of teachers and school principals. The state hopes students take the tests seriously this year.

The national momentum around pulling kids out of standardized testing — called the “opt-out” movement — began in two influential states, California and New York. The pandemic has led to more parents raising questions about the efficacy of high-stakes testing, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has said the annual assessments are necessary to gauge students’ progress.

In addition to writing and editing, guest columnist Heather Dempster has experience in foster care and advocating for children’s rights.

By Heather Dempster

My mother retired from a lifelong career in Georgia education recently. Over the years, I watched as her career became increasingly challenging for all the wrong reasons, as federal and state assessments became more burdensome over time.

I watched her lose the freedom and opportunity to do the thing she did best — to meet her students on an individual level and teach them — as more data collection and test prep piled higher upon her desk. I heard her say many times that nothing would ever change unless parents spoke out.

Years later, I am now such a parent. I know I am only one drop in a big ocean, but I have a strong conviction to do what I believe is best for my children. And that is not to participate in state testing this year.

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Heather Dempster (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

 Heather Dempster (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Heather Dempster (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

I appreciate all of the educators my children have had in the DeKalb County School District and am especially grateful for their efforts this year. The challenges have been unprecedented, as have been their accomplishments in the face of them. I consider them all heroes.

Still, I chose to refuse to allow my children to participate in the Georgia Milestones assessment this year. My 10-year-old twins in fourth grade will be scored as “present, did not attempt.”

Though I do believe that there is a place for data collection and formal assessments, the Milestones test does not belong in our classrooms. It is expensive, inaccurate, unfair and a waste of valuable classroom time and teacher resources.

Though I am refusing the Milestones, I don’t wish for my children’s non-participation to be disruptive to the classroom or increase their teacher’s workloads. I am willing for them to participate in whatever test preparation is being done at the classroom level. I see this as a joint effort in making change happen, with my local school as my partner, not my adversary.

ExploreMilestones tests mark critical pandemic moment for Georgia students

Many parents don’t know they can refuse to have their children take the Milestones. They likely will, as I did, get a letter from their district explaining they don’t have the legal right to “opt out.” But you can refuse, according to information from the Georgia Department of Education on the options for students whose parents have refused their participation.

The letter from the district that I received threatened to retain my children. This is an empty threat. Children are not retained solely on the basis of test refusal. They may drag you into a meeting where they try to scare the living daylights out of you. They may tell you that you’re hurting your child’s education, that you’re being a bad mother. But they will promote your child at the end of it.

All that you need to refuse Milestones is confidence. It’s late in the game to refuse this year. However, if you are curious about refusal, now is a great time to explore that further. There are many parents out here just like me, who have walked the trail ahead of you. We want to be a resource, if next year you want to follow this trail.

We could change things if enough people refuse to participate. And I don’t care what they say, you can refuse the test.

Yes, you can.

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