The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing by Steven Singer
By Steven Singer | This post originally appeared on gadflyonthewallblog | Badass Teachers | 2017 |Steven Singer is a contributing author United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Opposing Trump’s Agenda – Essays on Protest and Resistance | Syndication made possible through Patreon.
By Steven Singer
Testing season is a gray period in my classroom.
But it’s a joy in my house.
As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference.
In school I have to proctor the federally mandated standardized tests. But I’ve opted my own daughter out. She doesn’t take them.
So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.
“Daddy, daddy, look!” she squeals.
And I’m bombarded by an entire Picasso blue period.
Or “Daddy, will you staple these?”
And I’m besieged by a series of her creative writing.
My daughter is only in second grade and she loves standardized test time.
It’s when she gets to engage in whatever self-directed study strikes her fancy.
Back in kindergarten I missed the boat.
Even as an educator, myself, I had no idea the district would be subjecting her to standardized tests at an age when she should be doing nothing more strenuous than learning how to share and stack blocks.
But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.
I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.
Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.
Then I found out my daughter was also taking the DIBELS, a test where she reads a passage aloud and is given a score based on how quickly she reads without regard to its meaning. In fact, some of the passages test takers are forced to read are pure nonsense. It’s all about how readers pronounce words and whether they persevere through the passage. It’s not so much about reading. It’s about grit.
No. My precious little one won’t be doing that.
I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.
The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.
Ever since, my daughter hasn’t taken a single standardized test.
For me, it was a political statement as well as a parental one. I wanted to do my part to chip away at the corporate school reform movement. I know how much they rely on these test scores to justify closing poor schools like mine. I don’t want to give them a chance.
But little did I know what bliss I would be providing for my little one.
Beyond politics, I thought I was just protecting her from a prolonged period of boredom, unfair assessments and cognitively invalid measurements.
I wanted to shield her from adult woes. What I didn’t realize was I was opening a door for her creativity.
She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.
Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.
I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in her abilities during this time. Her handwriting, sentence construction, word choice and spelling have taken a leap to the next level. While her classmates are wasting time on the assessments, she’s actually learning something!
I wish I could provide the same opportunities for my students that I have for my daughter.
Don’t teachers stand in loco parentis? Well this is loco, so let me parent this. Let me at least talk to their parents about it – but if I do that on school time, in my professional capacity, I’m liable to be reprimanded.
I have studied standardized testing. It was part of my training to become a teacher. And the evidence is in. The academic world knows all this stuff is bunk, but the huge corporations that profit off of these tests and the associated test-prep material have silenced them.
I have a masters in my field. I’m a nationally board certified teacher. I have more than a decade of successful experience in the classroom. But I am not trusted enough to decide whether my students should take these tests.
It’s not like we’re even asking the parents. We start from the assumption that children will take the tests, but if the parents complain about it, we’ll give in to their wishes.
We should start from the assumption the kids won’t take the test. If parents want their kids to be cogs in the corporate machine, they should have to opt IN.
As a teacher, I can try to inform my students’ parents about all this, but at my own peril. If the administration found me talking about this with parents, I could be subject to a reprimand. Giving my honest educational opinion could result in me losing my job.
As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!
So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.
And it breaks my heart.
But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!
You would not believe the joy of opting out!