Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Will Groups Opposing Statewide Testing Fizzle Or Flourish?

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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.

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