Opting Out Isn’t the Answer

Proponents of opting out have been loud in their objections to assessments. However, opt-out efforts do more harm than good. Opt-out efforts undermine the integrity and value of good exams, and do little to improve testing policy. They put students at a disadvantage – and not just children of families that opt out, but all children.

Across the country, a growing movement has emerged, urging families to “opt in” to high-quality assessments. “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.”

“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.”

Support for assessments across the country remains strong. Nearly four out of five parents favor annual assessments, and 73 percent of parents support assessments that are comparable among states and school districts, according to a national Education Next survey.

Annual assessments are an important tool – alongside classroom assignments, homework and teacher observation – in determining how well individual students are doing academically, and whether schools are meeting the needs of all students. These statewide assessments provide valuable information, not only to schools and policymakers who use it to inform and improve education policies, but more importantly to teachers who incorporate the information into their individualized instruction in the classroom, and to parents who deserve transparent information about their child’s performance.

The Every Student Succeeds Act also gives state and local leaders more room to continue to improve on testing policy, and many states, like New York, have taken steps to ensure their exams meet students’ 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.

So what is a better alternative to opting out?

CCSSO’s Chris Minnich suggested the following: “Rather than refusing to allow your children to take the test, I encourage all parents to help improve the way we test kids now and in the future. I encourage parents to think about this as we gear up for the next school year. Engage your local school leaders in a conversation about your concerns. Parents can reach out to their district superintendent, their school board or the state education department to find out what efforts may already be underway or how they can help find the right balance in the amount and type of assessments kids are taking.”

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.