Let’s look at the reasons behind the “opt out” movement. (It is perhaps worth noting at the outset that the opt out “movement” is still embryonic and composed of many different voices. Advocates of opting out have divergent motivations, and come from all points across the traditional liberal-conservative spectrum.)
One argument for “opting out”, which I will call the “reduce the stakes” objection, goes something like this:
- Standardized tests measure one skill set (academic knowledge in math and English) while ignoring many others (like history, foreign language, art, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking)
- Many states use test results to measure teacher and school effectiveness, which makes the tests “high stakes” for the adults running our schools.
- The statistical models used to interpret test results lack sufficient precision and validity to be reliable indicators of teacher and school performance. Using those results to evaluate schools or individual teachers is therefore prone to error.
- Because the test are “high stakes”, teachers and administrators will modify their normally balanced approach to tested subjects and instead “teach to the test”.
- Time spent preparing students for the test, administering the test, and examining the results takes away valuable classroom time that could otherwise be spent on more noble pursuits.
- Because the test results are important to the adults running our schools, teachers and administrators may put pressure on students to excel on tests, increasing the stress levels of students. This is unhealthy for our kids.
- The test results are received 6-9 months after test administration, making them stale and not very useful for improving individual student performance.
- Large fees are paid to testing companies, and big corporate money is behind Common Core and testing.
- “Opt Out” is an act of moral protest against the a ‘harmful corporate reform agenda’
A different argument for opting out, which I call the “local control” objection, goes something like this:
- Standards ultimately express a set of values.
- There is no single ‘correct’ set of values, and therefore no single ‘correct’ set of educational standards.
- The Common Core, although originating with states, has been implemented using the power of the federal government through low-coercion financial incentives and/or compliance relief for those who adopt Common Core (example: Race to the Top)
- Standardized testing, along with accountability measurements, is the enforcement method of the common core implementation.
- One-size-fits-all implementations of the common core violate the long-standing principle of local control of schools, and reduce the responsiveness of local schools to local needs
- Schools will be more innovative if there are competing standards, and if the constraints of the common core are removed.
- “Opt Out” is an act of moral protest against an ‘over-reaching federal government’ and ‘FedEd’
Examples are here and here.
The opt out movement is an interesting amalgamation of interests from the progressive and conservative wings of our political spectrum.
The progressives have articulated the “lower the stakes” objection. The progressives don’t have too many objections to the standards themselves, but don’t believe testing provides an efficient and effective accountability measure. And (being progressives) the involvement of business interests in testing sets off alarms (the Gates Foundation and Pearson are favorite targets.) Teachers unions have been a key contributer to the ‘lower the stakes’ argument, and have backed the New York and New Jersey opt out movements with signficant funds (for example, see story here).
From the conservatives comes the “local control” objection. Conservatives don’t mind the accountability that comes with testing… but really don’t like the imposition of standards from the top down. Conservatives are skeptical of the common core, and perceive it as a federally-mandated curriculum that imposes a single point of view, a single curriculum, and a single way of educating students. And standardized tests are seen as a federal enforcement of conformity across the thousands of local school districts. Being conservatives, the “local control” camp wants to see more innovation and local experimentation in education.
I think both the “lower the stakes” and “local control” objections make some good points, and we should hear those and take them in. I will cover that in my next post. Nevertheless, I think both of these arguments overstate their case, and I will also cover that in a future post.