More parents say standardized tests flunk
April 12, 2016 – Repercussions for districts and students who opt out of state tests
Tim Jarboe, director of assessment and accountability for the Clarke County School District, makes a plea to the public to not opt out of the Georgia Milestones
April 11, 2016 – Parents Opt Out of Georgia Milestones
Kay Draper Hutchinson, a former school counselor, recently published these thoughts and instructions on how to opt out of the Georgia Milestones.
Springtime in Georgia means test-taking for students. And with it often comes stress and anxiety. Chronic worry and sweaty palms. Trouble sleeping and stomach aches. Tears of frustration.
It’s part of the reason a small but increasingly vocal group of parents in Georgia are urging state leaders to give their children the choice to “opt out” of taking the high-stakes tests in schools without being penalized for doing so.
Their call comes as education leaders acknowledge that students in Georgia are being overly tested. To address the issue, they’ve recently announced plans to condense the state’s main standardized test by next school year, with students expected to spend less time taking the exams — though student grade promotion and teacher performance will still be tied to them.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it … we do a lot of testing,” said Melissa Fincher, director of testing for the Georgia Department of Education. “One of our goals is to consolidate assessment so we preserve instructional time” in the classroom.
Parents pushing for an opt-out policy in Georgia join a growing movement of parents and educators in other states protesting standardized tests, which they argue hold too much importance in measuring a student’s academic achievement and teacher performance.
Georgia does not have an “opt out” test policy, and there is no specific wording in state law for refusal to take standardized tests. If parents want to keep their children from taking the tests, they can ask the child’s principal and teacher, who may consider the child’s classroom work for the year to determine if the child is promoted to the next grade.
Opt-out leaders could not immediately say how many children in Georgia have opted out of standardized tests this school year.
One recent Georgia case gained national media attention. Mary Finney, whose children attend schools in Marietta, sought last month to have her 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son opt out of taking the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). She said she and her husband planned to meet with the principal before the test to talk about opting out, but were instead met with a police officer at the school.
“He said ‘I have to inform you that basically you can’t be here because you’re refusing the test,’ ” she said. “You coming on the school grounds means you’re trespassing.’ ”
A spokeswoman for the Marietta school system did not return phone calls from the AJC seeking comment about the Finneys’ case.
Finney’s children did not take the CRCT, and the school system eventually agreed to meet with the parents in determining their children’s grade progression, she said.
Meg Norris, a former teacher who leads United Opt-Out Georgia, said in some cases when parents try to opt their children out of taking the tests, they’re met with resistance from school district leaders. “Georgia parents have been told they must withdraw their child from school if they do not wish them tested,” Norris said in an email. “Georgia parents have been told they will be brought up in front of tribunals, sent to court, referred to DFACS (Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services) for keeping their children home. Children have been left out of parties and humiliated in front of their classmates.”
Finney said she did not want her children taking the test because she kept hearing “tones of defeat” from them around test-taking time.
“’I’m stupid. I’m not doing well in school,’ ” she said, in quoting her children. “My children have never struggled so hard … this testing is getting to be over the top.
“They’re losing a bunch of normal instructional time,” she said, adding that she plans to either home school or put her children in private school next year. “Instead, they’ve pretty much been teaching to the test.”
Fincher said state educators understand Finney and other parents’ concerns about the test-driven culture in schools, but the state needs some testing to gauge whether students are learning.
“The state puts in quite an investment into the public school system, as does the federal government,” Fincher said. “It’s very important we know how we’re doing. Unfortunately while not a perfect measure, they are the best measures we have to let us gauge how students are progressing.”
Georgia public school students in grades 3 through 8 take the CRCT in reading, English/language arts, math, science and social studies. Students in grades 3, 5 and 8 must meet or exceed state standards in reading to be promoted to the next grade. Fifth- and eighth-graders must also meet or exceed state standards in math to be promoted.
Typically high schoolers take the state’s End of Course Tests, which serve as a student’s final exam in core courses. In addition to state standardized tests, students in Georgia are also given federal- and district-mandated tests.
State educators recently announced plans to replace the CRCT with the Georgia Measures of Achievement and Progress, which will be offered at the end of the next school year. Part of the test is to be consolidated, meaning students would spend less time taking the test, which is typically given over a 5-day period; state officials say the time could be decreased to four days.
So far, state lawmakers have not taken up the opt-out fight, though opt-out leaders say they plan to increase their lobbying efforts in the coming legislative session.
State Rep. Mike Dudgeon, vice chairman of the House’s education committee, said he agrees Georgia students are over-tested but that he believes students should take some standardized tests to make sure they’re learning.
“If you made it easy for parents to opt out, then you could have mischief, ‘cause then what if the teachers subtly encourage their low-performing kids maybe to opt out so they can get better test scores? That’s a dangerous slope to be going down, in my opinion.”
In the past few years, a number of cities and states have moved to limit the number of standardized tests and their importance in gauging student achievement.
Robert Schaeffer, public education director of National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said New York is where there’s been the most opting out in 2014, with 35,000 kids choosing not to take standardized tests.
Schaeffer noted the number of standardized tests administered at schools across the country has grown since No Child Left Behind, the federal law intended to hold schools more accountable and minimize gaps in equity by putting more emphasis on standardized testing.
He says federal law gives schools and districts an incentive to prevent opting out: If enough students don’t take the tests, the schools run the risk of losing federal funding.
“The excessive focus on testing narrows curriculum for the tested subjects, it dumbs down teacher teaching … to mindless test prep,” Schaeffer said. “It drives untested subjects out of the curriculum. It encourages the sort of test score manipulation that blew up the Atlanta school system. And it has created a climate in schools that many teachers, students and parents find extremely hostile to learning.”
By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
How to spell T-E-S-T:
State and federal assessments in Georgia:
CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test);
EOCT (End of Course Tests);
GHSGT (Georgia High School Graduation Test);
GAA (Georgia Alternate Assessment) Writing Assessments;
GKIDS (Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills);
NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).