Supporters of test refusal "claim a false mantle of civil rights activism," twelve civil rights organizations said in a statement last month. When parents "opt-out" of state tests, the statement said, they undermine efforts to improve schools for all children.
To understand the debate, it helps to understand the civil rights logic that undergirded the 2002 federal law No Child Left Behind. "The story of children being just shuffled through the system is one of the saddest stories of America," then-President George W. Bush said when he signed the law. Lawmakers wanted to hold schools accountable for every child's progress, regardless of that child's background.
So No Child Left Behind required states to regularly test all children in math and reading, and to separate out scores by student characteristics such as race and disability status. States had to take action when children in any demographic failed to meet learning goals.
The Common Core builds on the same logic. In 2009, a group of experts, backed by state governors and foundations, created a set of learning goals they thought better aligned with the skills students need to succeed in college and the workforce. Today, 43 states have adopted the standards, and children in most of those states took Common Core-aligned tests this spring.
Yet the Common Core has proved incredibly controversial—even more controversial than No Child Left Behind. There's something in the standards for both Democrats and Republicans to hate, from the collection of private student data to the loss of local control. Almost all the Republican presidential candidates—with the exception of former Florida governor Jeb Bush—oppose the standards.
Opponents say U.S. children take too many standardized tests, they don't measure learning well, and the new standards aren't age-appropriate. Quinones thinks the tests aren't fair to bilingual students. "The language that's used—it's something that we're not used to, it's not the literature we grew up reading," she says.
The most damning anti-testing argument, from a civil rights perspective, is the fact that while test scores have risen, achievement gaps have barely budged since No Child Left Behind was passed. White and Asian children still earn higher scores on standardized tests, on average, than African-American and Latino children do. Rich kids consistently earn higher scores than poor kids.
Rita Green, education chair for the Seattle King County NAACP, has researched the issue, and convinced her branch to defy the NAACP's national stance and embrace the opt-out movement. "The money they spend on those tests should be put in the classroom," Green says.
So far, much of the loudest opposition to the Common Core has come from white, suburban communities such as Long Island, New York and Douglas County, Colorado. Polls suggest that white parents are more skeptical of the standards than black and Latino parents.