Opt-Out Efforts Put Students, Teachers and Families at a Disadvantage


Even though opt-out proponents failed to change the 95 percent participation rate requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act, leaders of the movement say they intend to move forward “unabated,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“You can’t really punish the school and withhold funding because the parents chose an action that they thought was beneficial for their child,” claims Denisha Jones, a board member of United Opt Out National.

Annual assessment requirements are “anti-democratic” and “either a grievous mistake or the last vestiges of federal hubris,” argues Steven Singer on the website Common Dreams.

Such arguments ignore the importance of good assessments that provide accurate and actionable information. High-quality exams provide parents and teachers with data about student growth, which allows them to provide support when and where they need it most.

As the Wall Street Journal article notes, civil rights leaders have made clear that the information from meaningful assessments is necessary to ensure all students are held to levels that prepare them for college and careers.

“We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” 12 national civil rights groups wrote last year. “Anti-testing efforts that appear to be growing in states across the nation…would sabotage important data and rob us of the right to know how our students are faring.”

Across the country a growing consensus has emerged urging families to “opt in” to high-quality assessments. “Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” the New York Post editorial board wrote earlier this year. “They provide critical feedback about students, teachers and schools.”

Opt-out efforts undermine the integrity and value of good exams, and they do little to improve testing policy. They put students at a disadvantage – and not just children of families that opt out, but all children.

“Let’s be clear: there are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett explains. “Opting out is not one of them. 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.”

Families strongly support high-quality assessments. Nearly four out of five parents favor annual assessments, and 73 percent support assessments that are comparable among states and school districts, according to a national Education Next survey. And states are achieving results as they deliver those.

Twenty-six states significantly closed discrepancies between self-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the Honesty Gap analysis found earlier this year. Parents and teachers are getting more accurate information about how well their kids are developing the skills they need to succeed at high levels of learning and ultimately to graduate ready for college and careers.

This year most states administered assessments aligned to high, comparable learning goals for the second year. Overwhelmingly, student performance increased, especially among early-grade students, who have spent most or all of their education careers learning to high standards.

The results, Jim Cowen notes, are further evidence rigorous, comparable expectations and high-quality assessments are helping to improve student outcomes. The message is clear: Keep the bar high for students.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives state and local leaders more room to continue to improve on testing policy, and many states, like New York, have steps to ensure their exams meet student needs. Parents can, and should, be part of those efforts, and we have compiled a set of tools and resources to help them partner with educators to work towards better, fairer and fewer tests.

High-quality assessments are giving families better information, which is a necessary first step to improve student outcomes. Parents should resist the calls of those who want to turn back on these efforts. Opting out ultimately puts students at a loss and does little to address the real concerns. It’s time to opt in to good tests.