Georgia parents loudly reject standardized tests

Last year, Johns Creek parent Jennifer Schmidt saw her seventh-grader A-student son’s grades drop precipitously. He was failing new, harder tests aligned to the national standards called Common Core. “He was getting 100s on homework, but when the test comes around, he’s really failing them, getting 50s,” she said.

She thinks new tests use standards inappropriate for kids that age. “I want my kids taking tests, but I don’t want my kids taking these types of tests.”

That’s why Schmidt and a small but increasingly vocal faction of parents are refusing standardized testing for their children. State officials have taken notice, as they prepare to administer the first Georgia Milestones, a Common Core-aligned test they say is harder than its predecessors. The movement, though small, could spell problems for state testing requirements.

Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), an assessment of schools based on factors such as test scores and graduation rates, requires that 95 percent of students take Milestones. Melissa Fincher, Georgia Department of Education deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability, said enough students could be opted out of testing to jeopardize that requirement.

“It just depends on how large the movement becomes,” she said. “We’re just hoping that, with open communication, we can avert that.”

Parents like Schmidt all over the nation who seek to remove their children from standardized testing cite concerns including problems with Common Core’s implementation, over-reliance on test scores for evaluating teachers and worries over privacy.

Georgia Department of Education spokesperson Matt Cardoza said students who opt out of the Milestones test may not have a score to show college readiness, though Georgia will not use it for promotion, retention, and course grades.

The number of parents refusing standardized testing in Georgia is difficult to measure because the state does not have a policy on such requests.

Fincher said the state has asked school districts to keep track of the number of no-test requests, but many counties such as Gwinnett and Cobb have no official count.

Fulton County Schools and individual schools in other counties have said they would allow students to opt out. Individual schools are not required to give an alternative test, but they cannot waive student assessment requirements, according to Cardoza.

The testing-refusal movement has spread via social media.The number of parents involved is growing, according to former Georgia teacher Meg Norris, a leader with United Opt Out, a national group against testing and corporate influence in schools. Norris said parents from over 40 counties have opted out of testing this year.

“It’s like drinking water from a fire hose,” she said of the number of parents who have shared their stories or asked her for help drafting refusal letters.

Georgia education officials have said they expect Georgia Milestones scores to be lower than on past assessments. Norris said that reflects overdependence on what she believes are flawed Common Core standards.

“They’re going to get these tests back in October, and we’re going to have a big mess,” she said.

Fincher said students will spend less time taking Milestones than its predecessor required and noted Georgia has dropped its High School Graduation Test. “I think we’ve consolidated to the bare minimum (of testing) of what’s required in state law, so I think that we would need a change in state law to reduce it any further,” she said.

The Education Commission of the States (ECS), a nonpartisan policy research organization, reported in February that a majority of states including Georgia have unclear policies on letting students out of testing and do not have any consequences for not participating in testing.

States such as California require a written request to opt out and districts must track the numbers. Other states such as Texas do not allow opting out.

It’s not just parents who question the number of tests in Georgia. In January, Fulton County Superintendent Robert Avossa sent a letter to Georgia lawmakers blasting the volume of testing required.

“Teachers are spending more time proving they’re doing their jobs than being allowed to do them, and students are spending more time proving they can pass a standardized test than being given time to truly master the content,” Avossa wrote. “I believe students need to be tested and educators need to be held accountable, but our heavy reliance on testing leaves little room for teachers to plan, educate and improve outcomes for students.”

For some Georgia parents, the fight to opt out is a learning experience itself.

A year ago, Johns Creek parent Ruth Hartman had never emailed a congressman and didn’t know the name of her county’s superintendent. But her frustration with new curriculum and tests in her third-grader’s school prompted her to write the State Board of Education and pepper Avossa and local politicians with emails to refuse testing for her children.

“This is the most political I’ve ever gotten,” she said.

Schmidt said she also didn’t expect to get so involved but felt she had to, to care for her son, who will sit somewhere else while his classmates take tests this spring.

“As a parent, it’s scary to stand up and say no,” she said. “But also as a parent, I feel like I have to. You see this happening all over the nation, and I’m really seeing it pick up here, in Georgia.”

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