I'm taking a stand this year: My son is not taking the standardized state tests that are being mandated by the government. His school will receive a zero for my opting him out, which will lower his school's proficiency standings. On one hand, I feel bad that his school is being punished for my decision; his school has wonderful teachers and administrators. But it is not me who is punishing the school: Our government is punishing them. On the other hand, as Ian's mom, I am ultimately responsible for his education. I believe 100 percent that this test will do more harm than good to my child.
Let me explain why I am opting Ian out:
1) Ian does not learn the way other children learn. When he was four years old, we discovered Ian had a cancerous brain tumor. He had it surgically removed, which was followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The treatments were successful, but it came at a price: A void was left where the tumor was, and brain cells were damaged from the treatments. His brain has had to make new neurological connections. I am confident that Ian's brain will eventually make those connections and learning new things will become easier for him, but it will take time. In the meantime, we have to find innovative ways to help Ian be as successful as possible in school right now, much like other children who are more creative than logical/sequential learners. Even though Ian is functioning well physically, visually, and verbally, the biggest problem is his memory. He struggles with holding onto new information, which is essential when learning to read and learning math facts. I know this about him. His teachers know this about him. If the government wants to know this about him, they could immediately get the information by asking his school; they don't need to collect data on him in the spring, just so they can share their evaluation of him in the fall.
2) Ian doesn't need the stress of a high-stakes test that adds nothing to his education. First, this test will be used as an evaluation of his teacher. His teacher has nothing to do with his learning issues. As a matter of fact, she is working hard to make Ian as successful as possible. The thought that his poor performance on this type of test could result in a bad evaluation of his teacher devastates me. I don't want to do that to her or any other teacher. I know my high-school students are worried about how their performance will affect me. Children don't need that kind of pressure. Second, Ian doesn't need the stress of a test that will label him as "partially proficient" or "below proficient." Ian will deal with enough labels in his lifetime; he doesn't need some arbitrary label from a test that only measures a small portion of his abilities. These tests don't measure the things Ian excels at like art, music, spatial reasoning, and verbal communication.
3) State tests weaken his education. Because of the new importance placed on these state tests, most elementary schools halt normal educational practices, so students can participate in a number of standardized test preparation activities that have nothing to do with real learning -- it's just test-taking strategies. This time could be spent on teaching children to think for themselves instead of how to "perform" properly for the government and the big businesses making these tests. The actual time spent taking the tests does the same thing. If people are wondering why our students are falling behind other countries, they need to look no further than the hours spent every year on preparing and testing our students for these standardized tests.
4) These tests will measure whether Ian is at the same level as the rest of the students in 3rd grade, which we already know he is not. He is making progress, but Ian is still at least 6 months behind most of his classmates. Testing him at a level we all know he is not at is a waste of time and money. Opting Ian out may not get the time and money back, but it is sending a message to the state that they will continue to waste their time and money on Ian and other students who have parents opting their children out.
5) Because of the current culture in education, Ian hates school. Outside of school, Ian is a curious boy who loves to learn and teach other people what he has learned. This is why my heart breaks every time Ian says he hates school. How can a boy so full of curiosity hate school? Because to Ian, school is punitive; it is not a place where he gets rewarded for his natural curiosity; it is not a place where he is taught what he is ready to learn when he is ready to learn it. The current culture of school is not meeting his needs. He has to learn what the standards tell him to learn. Teachers are being forced to get students where the state tests say students should be for each grade level by the testing dates. What makes matters worse is that with all the budget cuts made at the district and school levels to pay for these state tests, class sizes are getting bigger because there is no money to hire more teachers; therefore, Ian cannot get the individual attention he needs to catch up.
Opting Ian out of these state tests will help Ian become a healthier, more confident student -- I am certain of that. If I allowed Ian to follow the same path of so many children before him, children who learned differently but were told they didn't measure up to the state's expectations of them, I'm afraid the beautiful light in his eyes will fade until he becomes one of my sad juniors who cannot engage with their education anymore, or one of my repeating seniors who will eventually drop out of school because school did not meet their needs. Ian will not become another dismal statistic -- not on my watch.
I know Ian's story is not unique; there are too many students like him. I see what they become when they get to high school. I don't want that sad fate for my child or anyone else's for that matter. I believe 100 percent that this test does more harm than good for children. I hope more parents take a stand this year and fight against state testing. Let's send a message to the government that enough is enough.
If anyone is interested in taking a similar stand, here is a link to the United Opt-Out Organization for additional information on movements around the country.
This post originally appeared on Pauline's blog in March 2014.