Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows

In March 2011, the stories of parents attempting to opt out of state high stakes standardized tests began to spread. Parents in Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, made the news, with the Pennsylvania story covered by CNN and Fox.
These news stories sparked a wave of renewed interest by frustrated parents across the nation. While there are a number of groups providing support to parents in many states, online and on Facebook, Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing caught my attention. Parents from around the nation began posting questions, sharing experiences, and collected in the Discussion tab. Some from public education joined posting information as they had available.

This month I looked back at those stories and several things are apparent. Notably, individual schools, school districts, state-level staff, all the way to the U.S. Department of Education provide conflicting information. A familiar refrain at the local level is that opting out is not possible since high stakes standardized tests are mandated under No Child Left Behind.

Parents want the facts and the fact is there is nothing in the federal legislation that requires students to take the test or remove parental right to not permit their child be tested. The federal legislation, however, requires that schools give the tests. Failure to give the tests in sufficient quantity and failure to meet legislated improvement levels may bring sanctions on the schools.

Individual states have established rules and regulations, some specifically address opting out and others do not mention it. Some deny opting out under all conditions, including medical doctor recommendations for students with complicated health conditions. Other states will consider unique situations and hardships, such as a medical condition, or if testing is against a religious belief, but nothing else. Then, there are states that do provide parents an option to Opt Out requiring nothing more than a simple letter to the principal.

Opting out by keeping the child at home would seem a simple solution; however, the consequences for parent and child must be considered. Since testing takes up to 10 days in some locations, absences of that length can exceed attendance rules and a child may be required to repeat the entire year. A parent in Texas reports that in their school district there are punishments.
"..if we take them out without a doctor's note for more than 3 days, we will be fined $500 per child, taken to court, and a truancy officer will visit us."

Parents with students in charter schools report that opting out of tests may lead to the school denying re-enrolling the next school year.

Parents collectively, irrespective of political party, ideology, and any other affiliation want an end to:

  • Classrooms converted to test prep centers.

  • High stakes assessment.

  • Plans for the increased quantity of federally mandated high stakes standardized testing under Race to the Top initiatives.

  • Misinformation and confusion over parent rights to opt out of high stakes standardized testing.

Parents are not saying they are uninterested in their student’s progress or opposed to accountability measures that reflect progress in their communities and across the nation. They are not saying that sub-group comparison is not important. What they are saying loud and clear is that they reject the way standardized testing has taken over the school environment and have a parental right to say no.

All eyes on South Carolina parents who are challenging the mandated high stakes standardized testing. Parent Gretchen Herrera intends to take her case to the South Carolina capital on October 3, 2011. Her story is found here.

A resource for information about your state and a place to share your personal experiences and knowledge is Opt Out of Standardized Tests.


  1. Excellent column! Be sure to share where you can and direct parents to:

  2. the only success stories from high stakes testing comes from test makers and consultants getting rich !

  3. Anonymous - no doubt about that..getting rich and richer. There is some news reporting on these things. Look here for a short but fact-based picture of the business opportunities feeding off all these taxpayer funded federal and state mandates: