“I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.”
Why did parents in the focus groups react strongly to this? There are a few reasons. First, people object to the inference that they don’t care about “valuable” information regarding their child’s progress and secondly, because they know that a system which uses one or two standardized test scores to determine how to distribute resources and support student learning is a failed system.
Most concerning though, is that ODE appears to have bought into the narrative that SBAC is a new and wonderful test of the magical Common Core Standards which can prove “college and career readiness” (presumably for any and all colleges or careers) as early as third grade for any and all students. This is not a story that most parents are buying. They are frustrated that the education agency is not listening to the increasing dissatisfaction of those who use our public schools (students, parents and teachers) with what has happened since the implementation of the Common Core and the testing regime that accompanied it; apparently even when that dissatisfaction finds its way into legislation, as it did in HB 2555.
There have always been a handful of parents who opt their children out things at school: sex education, social studies courses, science classes, music, you name it. Some even choose to school their children at home completely. It is a right that parents clearly have. So what is it that has recently, in just the last two years, caused thousands to opt out in Oregon and across the country with as many as 200,000 opt outs in New York? Have parents suddenly changed? Are students being tested for the first time in history? Are parents really just afraid that they will find out their kids aren’t as smart as they think, as Arne Duncan suggested a couple years ago? Or do parents know that this has nothing to do with what’s good for their kids? As noted in Indiana , this is not a left vs. right issue. It is an issue which find parents on both sides of the political spectrum questioning these polices. I like to call it the “everyone knows poop stinks” theory of populism.
One thing I have found odd is that here in Portland, some portray the opt out movement as something that only someone with privilege would engage in and say that opt out damages underserved communities because goodness me, how would we know which communities are underserved without the new tests? The fact is, we have known for quite some time where students need more resource. Perhaps those in Portland who portray it in as a movement of the privileged are unaware of the opt out movement in places like Philadelphia, where parents of English Learners know that it’s not fair for their kids to take a test in a language they are still learning; or in Seattle, where the King County NAACP has spoken against the tests and leader of testing resistance Jesse Hagopian has reminded people of the legacy of standardized tests as tools used to exclude people of color and deny them their basic rights as citizens.
In fact, many parents of color are tired of waiting for the system to do something other than measure the inequality in the system and to actually address their concerns and are beginning to talk of opting out of the entire system. This is not something that has been typical in these communities historically, but the reform parents are seeking, and have been seeking for decades, does not involve more gatekeeping via linguistically and culturally biased standardized tests. Some parents are growing tired of waiting for real reform. Just like the “white suburban moms” Duncan spoke of, mothers of children in traditionally underserved and marginalized communities also want a say in their kids’ education. And parents with the resources to do so will leave the system at some point, no matter what their ethnicity. Sadly, this is what those who wish to privatize our schools want to see happen. It will be so much easier to slide in a cheap McEducation when only those with little power or engagement are left in our public schools. Money earned from private charter chains, taxes cut for public schools: it’s a double win for the 1%.
There are many parents of color and "white suburban moms" who stand together and seek real reform. Instead, what parents of color have been getting for decades is underfunding and de facto segregation followed more recently by school closures based on test scores. Parents in Chicago have experienced this. Parents in New Orleans are living with the system of privatization. Parents don’t want their kids labeled failures or their neighborhood schools closed. They want them improved, and they want a say in how. Some parents have even been willing to risk their lives and health to keep their schools open and to retain local control. Here in Oregon, in spite of what some are trying to convince us of, African American students opted out at a rate of 7%, according to ODE. Thus the attempt of some to divide us by race is dissolved. There are a whole lot of all kinds of people who do not like this system.
And we know ODE is keeping close tabs on who does and doesn’t test, as they have stated repeatedly that are afraid we will lose federal money; even though any legal challenge would likely find that the federal government has no authorization to withhold money on this basis; even though it didn’t happen in New York; and even though there appears to be no appetite for withholding money in either the House or Senate bill seeking to finally reauthorize ESEA and get us out of the clearly failed test and punish system brought to you by No Child Left Behind beginning 15 years ago.
By the way, can we really still call something we’ve been doing at least 15 years “reform”?
So when you see an article like this, or an even more poorly researched article like this, fellow Oregonians, use the critical thinking skills I know you have EVEN THOUGH you were never exposed to the magic Common Core and required to take an average total of 8 hours of standardized testing beginning in third grade. Well informed parents, parents who pay attention to their children and what’s happening not only at their neighborhood school but also at schools across the country, have good reason to want to opt their children out. It’s not about a hard test and dumb kids with overprotective parents, or lazy teachers who don’t want to be evaluated, and parent and education activists’ reaction to the language in the Oregon Opt Out form is not “whining”. Those who insinuate these things are not only insulting, they are constructing a straw man. This is a national movement to end the corruption of our school system by an undemocratic process wherein billionaires spread their money around get what they want without ever having to have the messy discussions that democracy demands. And we want our state education department on our side, not shilling for the snake oil salesmen who promise that the new standards are the Common Cure for every ill in education and for every struggle faced by every child.
The state has admitted that so far Smarter Balanced is costing us $27 million per biennium (more than double what the previously and also flawed OAKS test cost) and that’s just in contract and administration costs alone. We may never get a total accounting of all the professional development time for teachers and the materials purchased to conform to the new standards, nor the class time lost and disruption of school schedules for months.
Isn’t it time for our state to do what Vermont did recently and tell the parents the truth? Or at the very least, if they fear the wrath of Big Brother, remain more neutral, as they chose to do in Albuquerque?
This is the issue: What is our state government’s duty to parents and families? What quality of information are we entitled to?
Maybe it’s time for us to return to an elected office for the State Superintendent.