Opting Out of Testing

Dear Families,

As you know if your child is in 3rd-5th grades, we are coming up on the weeks of school devoted to the State tests. If your child will be taking the tests, we wish you luck!

optWhile the PA has not, as a body, taken an official stance on this enormously complicated issue, we are deeply concerned about the implications of high-stakes testing and the ways in which it is reshaping more organic methods of learning and assessing both teachers and students across the country. Below is a letter from Jen Nessel, the chair of the Community Action Committee, on the movement to opt out of the tests and what to do if you want to opt your child out. This is a letter that represents a point of view but also tries to provide accurate information. Please read it!

Hi Everyone,

If you choose to opt your child out of taking the tests, you will be joining a growing movement of concerned public school families across the country who are standing up and saying no—

NO to replacing learning with test prep.

NO to punishing teachers and penalizing schools based solely on standardized test scores.

NO to turning our classrooms into profit centers and handing over $2.7 billion a year to testing companies, when the tests are a fundamentally flawed tool, don’t measure what they claim to measure, and are riddled with errors.

The high stakes of the tests are causing schools across the country to “teach to the test” and abandon curriculum that is not on the tests, subjects like history and science, art and music. Teachers are discouraged from placing value in things that cannot be tested and quantified. Since socio-economic status is by far the best predictor of test scores, as scores are increasingly tied to evaluations and bonuses, teachers have a disincentive to stay at the schools that serve the kids with the greatest needs. More and more teachers are leaving the profession altogether or moving to private schools, where the students don’t have to take the tests.

Opting out is an act of civil disobedience. The more people do it, the more their voices are heard. But not everyone will want to opt out, and their reasons will vary: no one should be judged by their decision either way.

If you choose to opt out, here are some things you should know and some resources that might help you make the decision. Families should be aware that rules can change, and there is no way to be 100 percent certain of the consequences for opting out. Based on our research and current guidelines, we believe the information below to be accurate.

How will opting out affect my child’s chances for getting into middle school?
At some schools in District 1, more than 50 percent of families have been opting out of the tests. Last year, the District 1 middle school principals signed a letter saying that they believe the tests are fundamentally flawed and they will no longer be looking at test scores in admissions. At a meeting last week, the head of Tompkins Middle School reiterated his concerns and his pledge, saying that the scores had never proved to be a good predictor of success at the school, anyway.

How will opting out affect my child’s ability to graduate into the next grade?
In the past, a student who opted out of the tests was required to put together a portfolio with the help of their school and submit it to the chancellor, who would decide if the student would be allowed to pass to the next grade. This is no longer the case. As of this year, the DOE policy is that no child can be held back solely on the basis of their test scores, and it is up to the school to determine, based on their knowledge of the student’s abilities, whether they have mastered the year’s material sufficiently to move up.

What will my child do while the rest of the class is taking the tests?
Schools are required to provide an appropriate alternate activity. At EVCS, they will be placed in a lower grade classroom for the duration of the tests and then rejoin their class.

How will opting out affect my school?
The DOE has said it will not close schools or make any other decisions based solely on test scores, and EVCS will not lose any funds. If fewer than 95 percent of students take the tests, it is possible the school will be marked as not having met its state Annual Yearly Performance goals and be required to write an improvement plan. This is new language and it is unclear how or whether it would be enforced or what it would mean beyond additional work for those who have to write the plan.

How will opting out affect our teachers?
Governor Cuomo tried to make it so that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would come from their students’ test scores, 35 percent from an outside evaluator, and only 15 percent from their principal, who sees the work they do day in and day out. Even states that are supportive of high-stakes tests and tying teacher evaluation to test scores think this is insane. Many teachers are fighting Cuomo’s education agenda, which also includes lifting the cap on the number of charter schools. Last night a budget deal was reached in Albany that seems to back away from some of the governor’s plans, for now.

The more families from more schools from more districts, cities, and states that boycott the tests, the better we can show politicians there is strong opposition to high-stakes testing and what it is doing to our schools.

You can download an opt-out letter to give the school from the EVCS website here.

If you are considering opting out, please let me know if you have any questions jennessel@yahoo.com.

Thanks for reading and thinking about this important issue.


Community Action Committee

And now for a word from my son, Oscar, who’s in 3rd grade:


For more information, you can visit these websites: