The success of the current education reform movement hinges on the compliance of millions of children who sit for annual accountability tests designed to rank their performance, and on the acquiescence of their schools and teachers to this vast public-policy experiment. At the start, parents seemed to be on board, or at least oblivious to the slow increase in testing that would be required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But as the frequency, duration, and failure rate of these exams grew with the implementation of federal programs such as Race to the Top and new teacher-performance reviews connected to multiple annual exams, the power of the parents and students to undo this policy turn became evident.
In my research on this phenomenon, I am analyzing online parental discussion groups and public commentary on the growing movement in New York state, as well as nationally, to “opt out” of mandatory standardized testing. More and more, I am seeing disaffected parents who are both frustrated and alarmed by the outsize influence examination preparation and administration is having on their children’s daily lives.
Some of the deepest concern is being expressed by a movement of parents of special-needs children. They describe taking the state tests as a humiliating ordeal for their children—one they must experience over and over again. As one parent put it in a Facebook post, “We already got his below-basic designation last year, why do I need to send him in again for six more days of testing to get that news again?” In later posts, the mother describes the amazing enrichment activities and individualized instruction that her son’s classroom teacher has designed for him. She laments that none of this teacher’s efforts, nor her son’s subsequent re-engagement in school that they have produced, would be reflected by the state exam used to measure his teacher’s performance. And hers is not an isolated story. Many other parents describe in various media their children’s loss of enriching activities to test preparation.
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