Wading in to the Opt Out Movement


Yesterday, my seventh grade daughter took the MAP (Measuring Academic Progress) test at her school. She wasn’t supposed to, because she is on an “Opt Out” list, as my husband and I requested, but somehow the ball got dropped and she took the test anyway. I was mad; she knew I would be.

Having to take the MAP test was the first thing she told me about when she saw me, since I had told her that she would be opted out of all testing this year. She is hesitant about this because she doesn’t want to be the only one—which she was—in her class not taking the test; that feels weird to a social, happy twelve year old. So, when a couple of school employees questioned her about whether or not she should be taking the test, she didn’t know what to say and just took it.

When I first saw her after school, she told me that she had taken the test, and then she told me what it was like to take the MAP. “I failed,” was the first thing she said. She went on to tell me that, when she got a question right, the questions immediately became much harder. And, when she got one wrong, the questions got a lot easier. She was dismissive of this and admitted that, after a while, she just started guessing on the answers in order to get through the test. Her friend sitting next to her did the same thing.

The MAP test is one of the many tests given to kids each year as part of a standardized testing package. Some schools give the test three times a year; others may give it one time.  It is supposed to help “track” children’s academic growth, but there are definite questions about the validity of the test and its results. Also, the motivation levels of students who take the MAP, but know that it does not impact their grades or their ability to get into college, is a known problem.

When I listen to my daughter’s experience with the MAP, I can see that this is true: the test does not inspire students to do their best. It seems, instead, to set them up to fail by jumping far ahead if they happen to get a correct answer. And this is valuable information? For whom? My ninth grade daughter did not take the MAP at her school this year, and happened to take notes while one of her teachers tried to inspire students to do well on the test. “C’mon,” the teacher said. “If you do well on this test, it makes the school look good, and we’ll get more money, and I’ll get to keep my job.”

I am angry that my child was told to do well on a standardized test—a test that has no direct connection to the work she is doing in the classroom—so that the school will look good and her teacher will get to keep her job. The teacher was probably being facetious, but still. This is a climate of fear, absurdity, and monetary punishment. This is divorced entirely, in my view as a parent and an educator, from why I send my children to school.

I want them at school to have their world expanded. I want them to learn about different cultures, different ways of life, and how to be engaged, informed citizens. I want them to think critically, to learn to ask questions—even dumb ones—with confidence, and I want them to learn how to advocate for themselves, and for others. I want them to have what children in expensive private schools get: small class sizes built around class discussions. I don’t want them glued to a computer screen or a chair several times a year, taking tests that their teachers have not seen and cannot comment on. I don’t want my children taught by teachers whose creativity, passion, and professionalism is challenged every day by more and more top-down mandates that seek to restrict and control what happens in the classroom.

I know that, because we are a white, middle-class, mainstream family, my children will be okay even if they are subjected to years of standardized testing. They go to a public school that has been able to retain art, music, and culturally enriching activities, despite an ever-narrowing focus on reading and math skills—skills the MAP test is purported to measure. The school can provide a well-rounded curriculum only because it receives generous parent and community donations,

Other children, in other schools and other neighborhoods, are not as fortunate. Their backgrounds, family structures, and histories are not represented on the standardized tests used to evaluate them and their schools. These children attend “failing” schools in “failed” neighborhoods where all the testing of the last 11 years, since the No Child Left Behind Act showcased and then abandoned the disparities in our schools, has not led to a greater investment in the schools or the neighborhoods. My city—Minneapolis—is full of children who attend schools where parents are not able to dig into their own pockets to provide art, music, and field trips for their children, who deserve this just as much as my own children do. This is wrong.

 If we want to talk about equity, unfairness, and progress in our schools, then we all need to opt out of the billion-dollar a year testing industry. Parents need to know that they have the right to advocate for their children. They need to know that their children do not have to waste hours of their school days taking questionable, for-profit tests that their teachers are not allowed to help them do well on. I wonder, as a nation, how committed we truly are to our next generation of leaders.