3 reasons why ‘opting out’ spells disaster

Kids hold up signs during the first New York rally in
Kids hold up signs during the first New York rally in “The Great American Opt Out” at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station on Saturday, March 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Instagram / Justin Timberlake

The politics of education may make for great theater, but when politics threatens to harm the well-being of children, it becomes a dangerous game. Calls from some for students to opt out of this month’s state assessments are irresponsible.

Parents need to know the facts about these state tests and the rhetoric coming from some so-called education leaders is not part of a constructive conversation. Opting out does nothing to improve our student’s futures — instead it ignores the opportunity for important feedback on student progress. Every child across our state should take these exams.

As leaders of High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups, we want to make sure parents understand what these tests tied to the Common Core standards are — a measure to evaluate progress toward career and college readiness.

We should dispel certain myths right away. Testing is not taking over our classrooms and monopolizing our teachers’ time. Our coalition released an analysis this week that found students spend less than 1% of their time in school taking state tests — that’s just 480 minutes over the course of their 64,800-minute school year. Further, the state Education Department also limits “test prep” to no more than 2% of classroom time in a year.

So why shouldn’t parents have their kids refuse to take the state assessments?

Students will lose a ‘checkup’

Under the old system, hundreds of thousands of children — from the suburbs to the cities — slipped through the cracks and could drift along without intervention. That led to more than 60% leaving high school in New York without being college or career ready. The assessments being administered this month are designed as an annual “checkup” to ensure all kids are making progress and providing teachers and schools more information when they’re not to help get students who may be falling behind back on track.

No basis for comparison

The assessments are the only common measure to compare how students are doing across the state. A disproportionate number of opt-outs would skew the results and be a step back when it comes to closing the achievement gap among minority students. We must make sure every child is advancing; to opt out is to do a disservice to high-need schools.

Federal funds at stake

The financial stakes of opting out are high. Schools with less than 95% participation risk losing federal funding. State aid tied to teacher evaluation requirements is on the line, too.

But there is a much larger issue at stake. We should not be teaching our children that if they don’t like tests, they can refuse them. Opting out is the wrong approach to address what parents don’t like about testing. If there are problems with the tests, then communities should work together to fix them. Shielding our children from the tests sets a bad example and delays the process of making positive changes to improve what is an imperfect system.

When it comes time to find a job, there is no “opting out.” There is only unemployment. Let’s make sure we send the right messages to our children now, so they do not face that reality in the future.

Steve Sigmund is the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups. Jennifer Hensley is the executive director of the Association for a Better New York, a non-profit organization.