“Opt in” hasn’t been earned

I have seen several articles now, with tone ranging from dismissive to despair, about parents who are demanding better for their children than an economists approach to education. Schools are not intended to be a testing ground for the next best money-saving or money-making idea. Public schools should prepare students for the world that is, while empowering them to make it the world they want it to be. Unfortunately, the deference to data and standardized tests as the last word on the value needed and value gained allows the least accountable in power to deflect accountability onto the powerless. Below is a response to a recent Times Union editorial that echoed the hopelessness of reform-minded testing advocates who seem not to believe that there is a better way. A link to that editorial is included, but has suddenly become available only to subscribers. I have quoted a couple of statements and you will likely get the “gist”. 

The so-called “opt out” movement is not some pointless effort driven by impossible to please agitators. While your April 5th editorial (“It’s time to opt back in”) rightly describes some of the progress that has been made, it’s better to think about that progress like throwing a glass of water on a house fire, and the focus on standardized tests like using a thermometer to discover where the heat is coming from. Yes, the water was a nice gesture, but defending and promoting the tests is like saying that thermometers are the most important fire prevention and fire-fighting tool. It doesn’t take an expert to know better.

 

“Yet this week, as annual standardized tests are given to more than 1.1 million children, opt-out proponents are pushing for yet more parents to let their kids sit them out.

To which one has to wonder: Why?”

Why? If you need to ask then you haven’t thought about it very hard or talked to someone who knows. Real progress will be realized when our leaders separate themselves from viewing children as investment data and tests as a way to justify a sorting, de-humanizing approach to young people and future citizens. My three daughters, 17, 14 and 11, are not allowed to get out of anything just because it is difficult, and their accomplishments and efforts (both academic and personal) extend into the community. I cannot describe the efforts of NYSED, our elected leaders, or even teachers unions with the same level of respect, and I have ongoing communications with all three.

“This is essentially what teachers and parents were demanding. It’s a major course correction that will take time, but it is under way.”

 

Parents are demanding, teachers are hoping because they are the professionals who have continually been sidelined. While tests should remain an important facet of an education, the real test will be if leaders will join with parents and educators in shared accountability for the whole child, not just a test score. That’s what I demand as a parent, and expect as an educator that understanding how learning happens.

 

“So the opt-out movement needs to accept victory. In all the ways that count, it won. The challenge now is to opt in to the task of making this work.”

 

There is no victory until policymakers take a collaborative seat at the shared-accountability table to talk equity, opportunity, and holistic approaches to our developing young citizens.

 

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