Over 50 parents and teachers from throughout the county packed a Chula Vista home on a recent Saturday (February 21) for an “opt-out party.”
Kristin Phatak and Heather Poland, educators and parents who believe that students lose too much class time on test preparation and test taking, hosted the party to encourage parents to opt their kids out of standardized tests.
Phatak said last year only five moms attended the opt-out party, but this year she had such a huge response she was worried about seating.
Phatak has children in the Chula Vista Elementary and Sweetwater Union High School districts. She recently appeared on KUSI and shared her views on Common Core and opting out.
There is a new standardized test, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System, which students in grades 3-8 and 11 will be taking online this spring. The test is aligned with Common Core standards for math and language arts.
Phatak maintains the test is not a valid measurement of student achievement.
The assessment, she opines, is adaptive in that the difficulty of the questions change in relationship to student responses. For some students, the test becomes increasingly difficult; for others, easier.
“This does not measure the teaching in the classroom, or the school itself; rather, the socio-economic level surrounding the school,” Phatak said.
She is concerned that many assessments gather data about students. She worries that the data will be used to limit students’ opportunities in the future. So, she has opted her children out of all online tests.
Heather Poland has two children who attend a local elementary school. She teaches in San Diego Unified School District, is an administrator for a national teachers’ association called BATS, and a California contact for the national United Opt Out group.
Poland said she administered a field test for the new standardized test last year.
“My students struggled with this test,” said Poland. “One reason was because it’s online and they didn’t have pencil and paper to write things down. Many of them had trouble with the keyboard. The instructions were fairly complicated and even more so for English language learners…. The test will be graded on a curve, which condemns many students to fail.”
Some California school districts are beginning to weigh the cost of high-stakes testing.
Santa Ana Unified is one of four school districts that filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming that the mandated tests are an unfunded liability that will collectively cost school districts $1 million a year.
Closer to home, the San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously to send a resolution to Congress regarding standardized tests originating under the No Child Left Behind act. Here is a portion of the resolution:
“WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that high-stakes standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness, and the over-reliance on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing student’s love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate.”
After people had milled around the refreshment table graced by an "Opt-Out" cake, Phatak gave a PowerPoint presentation. The slides were intended to demonstrate, among other things, the relationship between big test corporations and the profit they are making from creating the tests and supplementary material.
Phatak and Poland had mock-ups of letters that could be used for opting out.
A parent asked, “What are some of the consequences of opting out?”
Phatak answered, “One of the first things that will happen is the principal will bring the parent into the office. She said because “you’re the non-educator sitting there, you might be made to feel like an idiot.”
The parent then asked, “Can there be any consequences for your child? Like, she wouldn’t be able to pass to the next grade?
Another parent, who had already been through the experience, answered, “The California Education Code  makes it clear that districts can’t base students’ grades on the assessment or yearly tests, so we can opt out without fear.”
The California Department of Education website suggests, however, there are reasons parents might choose to have their child tested:
“The [new standardized assessment test] is intended to provide parents and students more accurate and actionable information about what students are learning. Because the Smarter Balanced Assessments [Common Core–derived], which are administered as part of the [assessment test] System, are computer adaptive, these Assessments will also provide better information about the needs and successes of individual students.”