Why I Decided Against Opting-Out for State Testing
I debated whether to post on this issue but after reading a few Facebook posts criticizing parents like my wife and me who decided to opt-in for testing, I thought I’d share a few of my own thoughts for deciding against opting-out.
This test is not the first, nor the last standardized test, that our kids will face. In fact, it is one of a constant stream of tests in their academic careers. As such, this test does not differ substantially from most other standardized tests in that it is, at its core, a standardized test.
Yes, it is more difficult. Yes, it contributes to overemphasizing standard tests versus more critical thinking skills. Yes, it might fluster and frustrate students given its difficulty and skew my child’s performance downward compared to other years. Yes, it is driven by the politics of public education and the push-pull of the various stakeholders in the public education debate. I get all that.
But the issue for me boils down to a simple question: “What are the plusses and minuses of opting-in versus opting-out for my child?”.
For me, the major factor for opting-in aligns somewhat with the reasons its critics cite in their decision to opt-out: the weight and burden it places upon kids stuck in the vortex of the educational debate over standardized testing. Where we differ is how to best address it. I believe that choosing to opt-out actually empowers the test and other stakeholders at the expense of empowering learning and empowering our own child. Let’s face it: this is fundamentally a test on the English language and shortly, a test on mathematics. That’s all that is being asked of students this year, just like past years and unquestionably, just like years hence on a number of alternate, widely accepted standardized tests such as the PSAT,SSAT,SAT,ACT, AP , Regents, et al — you get the idea.
What I’ve observed in this debate is that the pressure and stress surrounding these tests does not come from the child; it actually originates from outside stakeholders and is projected onto the students. So why should my child bear the projection of fear, anger and other negatives about the test when the test itself is simply another standardized test ,of many, my child must take to advance in academic life? That gives way, way too much importance to the test , indeed, it actually makes the test almost larger than life in importance– and that is a terrible lesson and burden. I want my child to master test taking, not the other way around.
In talking about this to my kids, I view the test and debate on opting-in versus opting-out as a teachable moment, namely, a chance to discuss the what and why on standardized tests. In my view, the teachable lesson here is that standardized tests serve many purposes for many different people with the important caveat that those interests do not always align with the best interests of my child. I don’t intend this last statement to be provocative; I think it’s simply a fact that in multiple stakeholder issues like public education, you get competing interests and not surprisingly, those interests don’t always align with the child’s or parents’ interests.
What I want my kids to fundamentally understand is that a standardized test does not define who you are; a standardized test does not predict whether you will do well in college (as research shows the SAT to be a poor predictor for college success); a standardized test will not predict whether you will succeed in school, in life or provide a measure of the person. The test does not define you.
A standardized test measures nothing more than providing a snapshot of a point in time in your academic career. Nothing more — it’s fairly well established that these tests are assessments at best, and predictive in the least.
Meanwhile, the debate will swirl but it is more than clear that the resolution of the complex issues surrounding public education go way beyond this single exam. My role as a parent with kids within this swirl– this maelstrom of interests and policies and practices — is to teach them how the system , the game , works. Unfortunately, standardized testing resembles game theory in many ways — you have multiple stakeholders employing their own strategies with each trying to ‘win’ , naturally, to their advantage.
I don’t think it’s controversial to observe that standardized testing has been , and will continue to be, a major part of the board on which the game gets played. Without a radical departure — arguably merited– from standardized testing, standardized testing will unquestionably form a critical part of my children’s academic and professional or vocational careers. As such, I want my kids to understand the board and the other players at the table because their academic careers — from elementary school to college and beyond — require that they play the game.
So no matter how the game plays out, I want them to play the best game they can, heads held high. And they need to understand that this game is not the endgame to success and happiness in life nor to true learning and knowledge.