Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Will Groups Opposing Statewide Testing Fizzle Or Flourish?


A student taking a test at a California high school.

We’ve written about the small group of Indiana parents who plan to opt their children out of statewide standardized exams this Spring, fearing the testing is undermining their kids’ education.

This small but vocal Indiana group may now have supporters in a state reputed for doing everything “bigger”: Texas, where The Texas Tribune reports there’s “a budding backlash against standardized testing in the state that spawned No Child Left Behind.”

These grassroots Opt Out groups are far from gaining the critical mass needed to affect change on state testing regimes. On top of that, Indiana education officials stress tests only form a portion of the state’s accountability system.

But is the “budding backlash” blooming or withering?

Either way, The Texas Tribune reports a small number of parents say they plan to pull their children from state testing. Some districts in Texas say they won’t send their standardized test results back to the state. And what’s more, the Tribune reports Opt Out organizers have apparently gained an unlikely ally in Texas’ top education official:

In a high-level turnaround, Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, said Tuesday that student testing in the state had become a “perversion of its original intent” and that he looked forward to “reeling it back” in the future. Earning a standing ovation from an annual gathering of 4,000 educators that has given him chillier receptions in the past, Scott called for an accountability process that measured “every other day of a school’s life besides testing day.” (Here is a full version of his remarks.)

Many viewed the speech as a reversal for Scott, who has rarely spoken publicly against the role of standardized testing in public schools…

…although Scott has spoken about the need to account for learning that happens on “every other day,” like in this 2011 interview with the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess. The Tribune report continues:

It is a precarious time for Texas school districts. Faced with roughly $5.4 billion less in state financing, districts this year will administer new, more rigorous state exams called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. And for the first time in high school, the assessments are linked to graduation requirements and final grades.

There is anxiety among school leaders, educators and parents about meeting the increased standards with fewer resources. In the Panhandle, the Hereford Independent School District superintendent may withhold her district’s test scores from the state. An Austin parent is considering a lawsuit to stop the rollout of the tests. Some legislators are mulling how to postpone some of the tests’ consequences for students.

Beyond Texas and Indiana, fledgling Opt Out efforts have surfaced in Pennsylvania and New York, with supporters linked nationwide through blogs and Facebook groups.

But as we wrote last month, the greatest challenge these groups may have is winning at their own numbers game.

Many Opt Out groups have set a goal of 5 percent absenteeism on statewide testing, a level Opt Out organizers say is enough to invalidate the exam results. As we wrote, more than 56,000 Indiana students would have to skip state tests to meet that goal. As of post time, roughly 100 have joined Indiana’s Opt Out Facebook group.

Convincing parents to join the cause may be difficult.  Indiana education officials have maintained there is no provision in state law for parents to opt their children out of statewide testing, and any move to opt a student out could have legal repercussions for the parents.


  • Matthew Brooks

    High-Stakes Testing is flawed and hurtful. Children and schools alike suffer because of this approach. Indiana continues to raise the stakes on these tests far beyond what they are mandated to do by federal law. We, however, do not plan on our children being absent. The IDOE has made clear they will not condone absenteeism. They even go so far as to threaten parents with Cumpulsory School Attendance Laws. As if Child Services doesn’t have enough on its plate. This is what collecting data means to them. They claim to have the ultimate say over our children. This is wrong. Our children will go to school. They will not test and we expect the schools to make arrangements for the children to receive the ‘free and appropriate education’ they are entitled to.

  • Mjuerling

    “Indiana education officials have maintained there is no provision in state law for parents to opt their children out of statewide testing”………
    There are no Indiana state laws against Opting Out because it would go against a parent’s rights, broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions, especially parents right to “direct the
    upbringing and education of their children.”

    • StateImpact Indiana

      I’ve seen that statement in several places and attached to several cases. Has this stance from the Courts been applied to standardized testing anywhere you’ve found? Elsewhere I’ve seen this as a First Amendment issue…

    • sugarcoatingtests

      Interesting point – can you point us in the direction of this decision? And does it mean when a parent “chooses” to send their child to a “school” that is “required” to test – does that imply that the child’s parent is exercising his/her right to “direct the education of their children” due to that “choice” in educational venue?

      • StateImpact Indiana

        After further reporting into this, the case Pierce v. Society of Sisters has come up a lot:

        The case dealt with Congressional action in 1922 that required all children between 8-16 to attend public schools. Parents sued, saying they could send their children to private or religious schools if they so chose. The Court sided with them, holding in 1924, “The fundamental liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.”

        So Mjuerling’s right in that there is broad Constitutional protection of parental rights. My question as a reporter — and not a lawyer, ha! — going forward is whether a Court would apply the same standard in a case today, especially in Indiana, where parental choice has been endorsed by the government.

  • Marq

    My son is a great student, receiving a great education. The tests have help place him in classes that challenge him and he thrives in this environment.
    I’ve read the arguments, most parents who are calling for the boycott can’t seem to give me a straight answer why what they are doing is helpful. One parent states, since we had 10 snow days, the test should be pushed back a month?? Why?

    Don’t get snookered into believing this new “Grassroots” cause.

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