Opting out is hard to do


Recently, I wrote an article about a group of South High School teachers in Minneapolis who led a protest of the MAP (Measuring Academic Progress) standardized test by encouraging parents to opt their students out of it. Opting out of standardized testing as a form of civil disobedience, if you will, is a growing national movement that is inching its way in to Minnesota.

In order to build on the conversations around testing and opting out that grew from the South teachers’ actions, on Monday, September 30, Leonardo’s Basement in Minneapolis held a “testing/opt out” forum. This brought parents and teachers together to discuss the impact of testing on our schools, and how and why some parents have decided to opt out.

I attended this forum and shared my story as a parent who has taken the opt out plunge by refusing both the MAP and MCA tests for my children. I was happy to share my experiences with those in attendance, but what is more important to me is that I got to hear other parents’ and teachers’ stories, too.

The first thing I learned is that opting out as a form of protest is complicated. A parent who attended the evening’s forum said that her child goes to Bancroft Elementary School in south Minneapolis. Bancroft is a high poverty school with corresponding low scores on the MCA test, and this parent worries that, if children like her son, who live in the Bancroft neighborhood but are not in high poverty situations, opt of testing, then the school’s test scores will go even lower.

She expressed concern that this would further push away middle class Bancroft neighborhood parents who already tend to overlook the school because of its low test scores. She wanted all of us to know how much she values the teachers and principal at Bancroft and what she said was its focus on project-based learning, despite the presence of frequent testing.

Another parent, from Lake Harriet Upper School, spoke about how, since the school has a very low poverty rate, the district does not provide either a testing coordinator or additional staff to help during testing weeks. This means, the parent said, that right now, all administrators and teachers at the school are devoting hours of their days to acting as test proctors. This parent also said that the school’s new principal was amazed at the way some of the children took hours and hours to complete the MAP test, when it is supposed to be completed in one hour’s time. The parent felt that the children were taking so long because they were very afraid of failing the test. I should point out that she was talking about second graders.

I learned that getting parents informed about opting out of testing would be tough at a school like Lake Harriet. This is because, in some parents’ view, the parents at a school like Lake Harriet, where the school’s test scores are always very high, parents have come to rely on these scores as a concrete sign of their students’ success. Some teachers in attendance felt that this was because of a culture change in education, where competition, numbers, and test scores have come to define success for many parents and their children.

A few teachers in attendance also expressed fear about speaking out the way the South teachers did. One teacher from Roosevelt High School felt that, without strong parent support, opt out movements at her school could have a backlash effect for teachers. Not all teachers, she said, have the power and protection to go against such an entrenched mandate as standardized testing, even if they believe it impacts their ability to teach in the most effective way possible. One teacher from a high poverty elementary school full of English Language Learner students, who tend not to score highly on the MAP or MCAs, lamented the fact that her students get no recess because there is “no time” in the face of endless test prep.

The evening ended on a positive note, with many parents and teachers seemingly glad that, at the very least, people were starting to question testing more publicly. Many parents in attendance said they did not know exactly what the MAP test was or when it was being given at their school. They also did not know, as I did not until fairly recently, that they have the right to refuse the tests for their students. They may feel, as I now do, that while opting out is a relief for some, for others it is anything but a simple choice.