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The Snowball Effect of Opting Out

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Accountability Danielle Goedel New York State Opt-Out Teacher Voice Testing

The Snowball Effect of Opting Out

The Snowball Effect of Opting Out

My anxiety level has been high since the start of state testing. Every year this happens, but this year was different.

My heart was beating a bit faster on Monday morning when I entered my building. With all of the political turmoil and media coverage surrounding state testing and the opt-out movement, I knew I would be seeing children making adult decisions.

This year I was asked to help distribute tests, which gave me the opportunity to visit testing rooms and give students pep talks.

In a conversation with one student, he said to me, “No worries, Mrs. Goedel, I will be done in 10 minutes.”

I was astonished. “What do you mean you will be done in 10 minutes?”

He exclaimed, “My mom is making me take this test! I don’t want to, so I’m just going to fill in answers and put my head down.”

After a bit of cajoling and some discussion about choices, the student pinky-promised to try his best.

This child’s parent had made an informed, adult decision to have her child take the assessment. However, as a 14-year-old, he was making his own choice. It was apparent to me that conversations with other students, peer pressure, and media coverage on opt-out had influenced his choice on test day.

Later in the day, another 14-year-old student told her proctor that she refused to take the exam, even though she did not have a refusal letter from her parent. In this instance, it was unclear what the parent had chosen. We assumed the parent wanted her child to test, but she declined to even begin the assessment.

A Slippery Slope

The opt-out movement is having a snowball effect and it’s impacting the rest of the school year—the 99 percent of the year that is not spent on state standardized testing. Unit testing is 40 percent of a student’s overall grade for my class. Once we finish a topic of study, my students are then assessed on how well they know that topic. These are the same types of tests many of my students’ parents and I took when we were in school.

I see a generation of children who now believe that when a test is placed in front of them that is difficult, and has underlying consequences, they can opt out. They can refuse, or their parents can refuse it for them. Parents are balking at assessments that can identify struggling students who need extra services in math, reading, physical therapy or speech.

Next year, will I have parents who receive their child’s syllabus in September and decline to accept the terms I have set forth?

While the politics of testing and teacher evaluation are important to debate, it is necessary for parents to talk to their children about the adult decisions that are factors in determining refusal. It is important to work together as teachers and parents, regardless of state testing decisions, to create a positive and successful learning environment throughout the school year.

I urge parents to work with their children’s teachers to help form educated decisions so that students can receive all the help they need to achieve success.

Danielle Goedel is an eighth grade math teacher in upstate New York. She has 15 years of teaching experience, through two cycles of standards changes. She is a New York Educator Voice Fellow with America Achieves and a Common Core Ambassador for the New York State Education Department.

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