DELAWARE TOWNSHIP, N.J. — While his eighth-grade classmates took state standardized tests this spring, Tucker Richardson woke up late and played basketball in his Delaware Township driveway.
Tucker’s parents, Wendy and Will, are part of a small but growing number of parents nationwide who are ensuring their children do not participate in standardized testing.
They are opposed to the practice for myriad reasons, including the stress they believe it brings on young students, discomfort with tests being used to gauge teacher performance, fear that corporate influence is overriding education and concern that test prep is narrowing curricula down to the minimum needed to pass an exam.
“I’m just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it’s being used to define what’s happening in classrooms,” said Will Richardson, an educational consultant and former teacher. “These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They’re meant to find out what kids know.”
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The opt-out movement is small but growing. It has been brewing for several years via word-of-mouth and social media, especially through Facebook.
The “Long Island opt-out info” Facebook page has more than 9,200 members, many of them rallying at a Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., high school last month after a group of principals called this year’s state tests — and their low scores — a “debacle.”
In Washington, D.C., a group of parents and students protested outside the U.S. Department of Education.
Students and teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle boycotted a standardized test, leading Superintendent José Banda to declare that the city’s high schools have the choice to deem it optional.
In Oregon, students organized a campaign persuading their peers to opt out of tests, and a group of students in Providence, R.I., dressed like zombies and marched in front of the Statehouse to protest a requirement that they must achieve a minimum score on a state test in order to graduate.
“I’m opposed to these tests because they narrow what education is supposed to be about and they lower kids’ horizons,” said Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian. “I think collaboration, imagination, critical-thinking skills are all left off these tests and can’t be assessed by circling in A, B, C or D.”
For many parents and students, there have been few to no consequences to opting out. Most parents are choosing to take their younger children out of testing, not older students for whom it is a graduation requirement.
It’s unclear if things will change when the Common Core Curriculum and the standardized tests to accompany it are implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
Some states were granted waivers for No Child Left Behind, which requires districts to have at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing or be at risk of losing funding.
Kristen Jaudon, a spokeswoman for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the test Seattle deemed optional is not required by the state.
Ninety-five percent of students in a given school must take standardized tests that are required by state law.
Jaudon said parents who pull their children out of testing wouldn’t be able to identify if a student was having problems in a particular subject, and the move would deny educators the chance to see if the curriculum is working.
“We are bound by state law to test kids in our state. It’s not optional,” she said.
Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District in Centennial, Colo., said 95 percent of students in the district take standardized tests. If a child stays home on testing day, she said, it’s difficult to know if the parent is opting the child out or if the child is home for personal reasons, such as being sick.
“We encourage parents to have their kids take the test, but there are no consequences of any kind,” she said. “There’s no formal process for opting out. They can keep their child home that day and write an excuse.”
Maria Ferguson of the Center on Education Policy said she thinks the practice of parents pulling their kids out of standardized tests is symbolic.
“I think it shows that people are very scared and very confused by tests,” she said. “I think it’s representative that testing has a branding problem.”
Julie Borst, of Allendale, N.J., didn’t want her rising ninth-grader to take state standardized tests last year because her daughter has special needs and isn’t learning at her grade level. Borst is also concerned about the corporate influence on testing.
Borst said the school and superintendent asked the New Jersey Department of Education for guidance. Rather than staying home, Borst’s daughter had to go into the principal’s office each morning of the test and refuse to take it. Borst then drove her home.
“It was kind of convoluted and kind of a dance you do, and the result is the school district, they don’t get dinged,” Borst said.
Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said about 98 percent of New Jersey students take standardized tests. “Keeping a child home from testing does no favor to the child or the school,” he said.
Morna McDermott, a Baltimore college professor who is a board member of United Opt Out, likens the battle against standardized testing to a fight for corporate reform.
“Ultimately this is an act of civil disobedience,” McDermott said. “If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grass roots.”
Darcie Cimarusti, of Highland Park, N.J., didn’t like that her twin daughters would have to agonize over a standardized test as first-graders, so she worked out an agreement with the principal to move them into a kindergarten class during testing time.
“My goal is that my daughters never take a standardized test,” Cimarusti said. “I see less and less value in it educationally and it being used more and more to beat teachers over the head.”
Peggy Robertson, a teacher in Centennial, Colo., who is also an Opt Out board member, said she only expects the movement to grow.
“You can feel the momentum,” she said. “I think we’re headed for a full-on revolt next year.”