Monday, February 28, 2005

Some Parents Are Opting Their Children Out Of State-Mandated Testing

Around our own California junior high school, I've had several students through the years that have chosen to "opt-out" of the state's mandated annual testing scheme, called the STAR (Standardized Testing And Reporting) system. In California, as in many other states, parents have the right to exempt their child from testing.

I will usually receive a telephone call in my classroom (or sometimes a note) from a parent who will ask me if it is possible for their child to be excused from taking the test. (Even though I am an Anglo, many of my parents are Spanish speaking, and so they are comfortable contacting me as I too speak the language.)

Parents cite a variety of reasons, the most common ones being that the child doesn't have a good grasp of the English language or that the tests make their child extremely anxious or pressured.

Our protocol at Middletown Junior High School is to refer all such requests to The Office, without really discussing it further. For me, the teacher in the classroom, that's almost always the end of it as the office simply sends a memo (with no reason given) that the child is exempted from testing.

Now The New York Times
has published the story of one young man in Texas whose parents opted out of the testing. Here is an excerpt:

Edinburg, Texas: Macario Guajardo was one child left behind Wednesday when his classmates took the all-important Texas statewide reading test for promotion to the sixth grade.

Actually, 11-year-old Macario, an unlikely crusader at 4-foot-11 and 93 pounds, wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt, left himself behind. He stayed out of school in protest against what he called "the big deal" of the testing program, which he said "keeps kids from expressing their imagination."

"I don't think I'm brave," Macario said at his home here in the Rio Grande Valley. "Any kid could do this. It does take a little bit of guts."

Amid sharp critiques of the Texas-inspired federal education law called No Child Left Behind and its mandatory annual testing to measure school success or failure, a handful of students like Macario have taken the risky step of boycotting their tests. Some students say that the state tests, some of which predate the federal program, focus the learning process on test preparation.

For me, this is a first. I've never heard of a parent actually exempting their child from testing as a protest of the test itself. According to the article, there are a number of parents that are boycotting the Texas instrument, commonly referred to as the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) battery of tests:
In San Antonio on Tuesday, a 14-year-old high school freshman, Mia Kang, refused to take the required reading test, known as the TAKS, for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Two years ago, another San Antonio freshman, Kimberly Marciniak, 15, made headlines when she boycotted the same reading test in its debut year. (2003)
And the protests are not limited to Texas:

Also in 2003, two Washington State high school sophomores refused to take that state's mandatory exams. In 2002, parents in Scarsdale, N.Y., organized a boycott of the eighth-grade test.

And in Stewart, Ohio, a high school senior, John Wood, 17, who has refused to take any statewide test since the seventh grade, has lost out on graduating this spring. That poses a quandary for his father, George, who is co-editor of "Many Children Left Behind," a 2004 book critical of the federal law, but is also principal of John's school and must keep him from graduating. George Wood said he supported his son, who has been accepted by two private colleges.

Unlike California, opting-out of the test in Texas can result in unpleasant consequences:
In Texas, students like Macario who do not pass a state assessment test can be promoted only if a panel of the child's parents, teachers and principal all agree to make an exception.
As a practicing classroom teacher in California, this came as a surprise to me. We have no such consequence here for exempting one's child from testing. One of our biggest "testing challenges" is the fact that there are a large number of kids that do not take our S.T.A.R. tests seriously. I've actually heard of kids sitting there and filling in the bubbles on answer sheets in order to produce a pattern in the shape of a star.

Update:(3/01) Number 2 Pencil has a lot more to say on this story.

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