This month, schools across America administer the two Common Core State Standards aligned standardized exams: Partnership of Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) developed by Pearson and Smarter Balanced.

My state, Maine, belongs to the Smarter Balanced consortium.  And while my city is small compared to education battlegrounds New York City or Chicago, we have our own share of standardized testing controversy.  Schools fail to inform (or try to deny) parents’ right to chose if their children participate in the exam.  Misinformation is rampant.  Officials remain mute as often as possible, and when they speak on the subject, they only praise the data the test will generate and remind us all of the US DOE’s threat to control a portion of Title I funding if too many students fail to participate.

But the fact remains that parents do have the legal right to refuse testing, or “opt out.”  Here are eleven reasons why you should.

  1. Standardized tests penalize students who do not master material on an arbitrary date.  Testing companies and school administrators set the test dates. A child needing more time to master a concept isn’t allowed that opportunity with a fixed test date.  Thus, the data doesn’t reflect if the child masters the content five weeks, five days, or five minutes after the exam because it records only one arbitrary point in time.  Also, the system harms those who master material quickly.  Test makers give all students growth targets; high achievers already well above grade level must make expected progress or their above average score counts as a failure. To paraphrase Douglas Reeves, these tests are autopsies when we should use assessments as physicals.
  2. Standardized tests are developmentally inappropriate for young students.  If you’d like to see the tests in action: go here for a practice PARCC exam and here for a practice Smarter Balanced exam.  While you’re there, consider if a third grader has the computer skills to simultaneously  scroll two screens, highlight, drag and drop, and type as the test requires.  Many education experts argue the actual content of the test is developmentally inappropriate, too.  The standards (from Common Core), the questions, and even some of the reading passages are years too advanced in some cases.  And while this post focuses on Smarter Balanced and PARCC which aren’t administered until third grade, many schools give other standardized tests starting in kindergarten.
  3. Preparing for and administering standardized tests uses hours of instructional time.  Both the Smarter Balanced exam and PARCC use complex computer interfaces.  Test takers need practice learning how to navigate the test screens in preparation for the actual test.  Those experiences teach children nothing except how to take one test, and thus are wasted instructional time.  The exams themselves take hours to complete.  The timed PARCC takes 9-12 hours depending on grade level while Smarter Balanced estimates 7-8.5, but allows students as long as necessary to finish.
  4. Standardized tests narrow curriculum.  What’s on the test is what’s taught.  PARCC and Smarter Balanced only evaluate math and literacy, and thus science, social studies, and the arts are lost to spend maximum instruction time on the tested material.  There is no time for creativity, collaboration, and curiosity.  To increase time for improving test scores, some schools cut recess, and schools even push curriculum down the grades and remove play from kindergarten, even though play is the best way young children learn.
  5. Standardized tests are expensive. First of all, the tests are not free.  Then add in costs for professional development to train teachers and administrators to read the data, prepare their students, and administer the exam.  And don’t forget the price of practice tests, workbooks, textbooks, and remediation programs sold by top textbook producers Pearson and McGraw Hill with promises to improve test scores.  Lastly, these tests are taken on computers online, so districts must pay huge costs to update technology to run the tests.
  6. Test validity is questionable for PARCC and Smarter Balanced.  First of all, Sarah Blaine explains in “Pearson’s Wrong Answer,” when test content is hidden, the public cannot hold companies like Pearson accountable for providing a quality product.  Exams could be riddled with errors and the public would never know.  Next, the rushed creation of the tests resulted in technology problems.  Florida schools are experiencing major issues with technology, and my city was the first to report to the Maine DOE computer glitches that disadvantaged test takers.  Lastly, their is the issue of rigor.  Often test questions appear rigorous, but actually its the question the is hard, not the material.  Peter Green’s piece “Sampling PARCC” explains this well.  In spite of all these issues, a recent Forbes article reports New Jersey Governor Christie pleading for students to take the exam even if it hasn’t been proven effective!
  7. Research indicates that standardize test scores show little more than socioeconomic status. You don’t need a test to tell you that information.  Diane Ravitch explains this concept (and much more) in her speech: Everything You Need to Know about Common Core.
  8. The scores from standardized tests are used inappropriately.   A test is designed with a specific purpose.  When data is used to make conclusions outside that purpose, then it is no longer valid.  The tests children are supposed to take designed to evaluate their mastery of specific standards.  When the scores are then used to evaluate a teacher or rank a school, it is invalid.
  9. Refusing testing supports your children’s teachers.  I’m angered that the risk of losing a job for noncompliance forces teachers to silence their professional opinions. Teachers had next to no say in the creation of the Common Core State Standards and their subsequent adoption in states, and they also had little input into the creation of these tests and their government mandated use in schools.  When you refuse the test, you tell your child’s teacher: I respect your professional standing, so I trust you to use your education and training to best serve my child.
  10. Refusing the tests deprives the system of its fuel.The theory behind opting out is if enough people refuse the test, the date is no longer valid.  Federal and state governments mandate that states test all students to keep the data valid.  The current system sees children as data points to manipulate.  Refusing the test states that your child is more than a test score.  When large numbers opt out, that data should drive change.
  11. Refusing testing is one way to have a voice in education reform.  As an educator, I’m saddened that communities cannot have open discussions about the benefits and shortcomings of the tests and the larger system.  Educators, parents, students, and taxpayers were not informed on nor involved in the creation and adoption of the standards or the creation and adoption of the aligned tests.  The act of refusing the test demands that you are heard, even if only on a small scale.  The more parents who join, the larger the voice.

Adults remember standardized testing as an occasional interruption in the curriculum.  The low stakes culture kept the test in check.  Aside from the SAT, we didn’t stress over these exams, and certainly about factors beyond ourselves.  I never once worried my scores would harm my teacher or school.  But today’s youth do have this concern.  Even if teachers aren’t explicit, students determine the test’s importance by how much time and preparation it demands.  You can remove your child from this toxic testing culture and inform others along the way.  Check out United Opt Out and Fair Test for more general information, and be sure to search Facebook for groups tailored to your state or city.