Tens of thousands of parents and students nationwide are engaging in civil disobedience by refusing to participate in federally mandated standardized tests, as states are fully deploying new exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards for the first time.
While the opt-out movement has gained steam from some looking to protest the controversial academic standards and what they say is an overemphasis on testing in schools, some of its leaders say it’s about more than just those two things.
“Opt-out is not an anti-testing movement. This is a movement to reclaim and do what’s right for kids in public schools,” says Tim Slekar, a leader of the United Opt Out movement in Wisconsin and dean of the school of education at Edgewood College. “This is a movement to restore real learning.”
[READ: What It’s Like to Take a Common Core Test]
Spending on standards and tests, Slekar says, has taken away from funding music and arts programs, for example, and could be better allocated elsewhere.
“Why are the standards – the first ones we set – not, ‘All kids will come to school not hungry, not sick and with access to books?'” Slekar says. “Those are some great standards, but yet those standards we’re not allowed to go after.”
“A place for testing is when it is given back to the classroom teacher,” he adds. “Politicians have no business of being in the testing, teaching and learning business. They’re the ones to blame for the fact that we have an increasing achievement gap … They’re responsible for the absolute disaster we see in some of our poorer public schools.”
The number of students who have chosen not to take the tests has varied, from a relative handful who have opted out to hundreds who have walked out in protest.
Widespread protests against the Common Core-aligned tests began last month, when states began administering exams created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium. The other Common Core testing consortium, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), will begin administering exams in about 20 states later this month. Parents, teachers and school leaders have expressed concern that the tests may be too difficult or time-consuming, or that their schools’ technology might not be up to snuff for what the tests require.
For many, the jury is still out on both the Common Core standards and the linked exams. Teach Plus, a nonprofit focused on placing effective teachers in urban schools, on Tuesday released a survey of more than 1,000 teachers in Boston, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville and the District of Columbia who evaluated sample PARCC questions. More than three-quarters – 79 percent – of teachers said the test items were better than what their states used to have, but there were mixed results on whether they were grade-appropriate or too challenging.