Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, said his “big issue” is not testing itself but “the effects of testing and turning schooling into test prep.”
Pondiscio, who also teaches part-time at a charter school in Harlem, said at the Education Writers Association session that parents should approach their school principal with a grand bargain. It goes something like this: “You teach our kids. You give them a full, rich curriculum. And we show up for the test, no problem. The first day you bring out a test-prep book, don’t bother, because we’re staying home.”
Pondiscio added: “I’m just tired of seeing testing not just encourage but practically demand bad practice in classrooms.”
But Stewart of Education Post responded: “I’m just tired of knowing that our kids can pass these tests and that they’re not. … That has life consequences.”
One dimension of the debate that’s gained more prominence in media coverage and policy debates this year is the racial and ethnic makeup of families opting out, given the perception that the practice was largely a phenomenon among white middle-class and more affluent families in 2015.
In New York, students without a valid reason for missing the state tests last year were much more likely to be white, according to the ETS report. Also, they were less likely to be economically disadvantaged or English-language learners. Likewise, the report said, Coloradans who skipped the state exams in 2015 tended to be white students who were ineligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.
Opt-out rates were low last year in most large urban districts, one recent report concludes. The testing “inventory” study released last fall by the Council of the Great City Schools included a brief discussion of the issue, and some data points, amid what it described as “wide speculation that much of the protest was centered in economically more well-to-do areas.”
While some cities had individual schools where opting out was “substantial,” those were “anomalies,” the report finds. In most of the 66 big-city districts surveyed, opt-out rates were about 1 percent. Notable exceptions included two cities in New York—Rochester (20 percent) and Buffalo (15 percent)—as well as Albuquerque (6 percent) and Portland, Oregon (3 percent), according to the report.
Some anecdotes in this year’s new coverage suggest there may be greater diversity among opt outs in 2016, but there appears to be no data yet to confirm this.
Opting-out activity once again drew substantial attention this spring in New York. News reports on the recently completed state testing, including an early roundup by Politico, signaled some ups and downs in overall opt-out activity across communities in the Empire State.
The issue, not surprisingly, was on the radar of state education leaders, though their viewpoints did not always align.