Hardly an Act of Valor, Opting Out Puts Students at a Disadvantage

On the Huffington Post, Diane Ravitch urges parents to opt their children out of student assessments, which she claims “don’t serve any purpose other than to rank their children.”

“No child receives a diagnosis of what they know and don’t know,” and “the passing mark is not objective; it is arbitrary.” Ravitch says. “Parents have seen the destruction of neighborhood schools, based on their test scores…as well as a loss of control to federal mandates and state authorities.”

The only option parents have, the piece contends, is to opt out of assessments. But that advice is not only wrong, it’s counterproductive.

High-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to ensure their students are on track to graduate high school prepared for college or a career. Opting out not only puts their child at a disadvantage, it hurts communities and does little to improve testing policy.

“Let’s be clear: there are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies. Opting out is not one of them,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote recently. “Refusing to participate in assessments puts students, parents, and teachers at a disadvantage, and it does little to address legitimate concerns about the quality and volume of state tests.”

Last year, 12 national civil and human rights groups encouraged parents to resist the pressure to opt out. “We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity,” the groups explained.

“Boycotting standardized tests may seem like a good idea, but it hurts black learners the most,” Charles Coleman, a civil rights attorney, wrote this spring. “The areas that are often hit hardest are often the ones that were already performing poorly, where support and accountability are two imperatives toward improvement.”

Ravitch argues the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only assessment parents need. But, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, points out, “While NAEP helps highlight national trends, we still need statewide annual assessments to capture student and school progress year-by-year.”

“The quality of today’s assessments has improved greatly from the multiple-choice tests of the past, and these assessments are better indicators of student success and learning because they must be aligned to college- and career-ready standards, and measure student skills using a variety of methods,” Morial adds.

Contrary to Ravitch’s claim parents have no other option to improve testing policies, many families, teachers, advocacy groups and others are working in constructive ways to create better, and fewer, assessments. For example, earlier this year the Center for American Progress released the “Testing Bill of Rights,” which puts forward sensible principles to improve the quality of exams.

While over-testing is harmful to students, so is opting out. And the opt-out movement not only puts students at a loss, it does little to address legitimate concerns parents and others may have. Instead, families should “opt in” and working together to build on what’s working and change what’s not.

As Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, put it, “When we are finally going in the right direction, why would we even consider going back?”