Possibility of Nation-Wide Test Opt-Out Grows

teachers, resistance,
Teachers Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones have refused to give excessive tests to their students. They are teachers at Skelly Elementary, Tulsa Public Schools. Credit: STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

The growing movement for parents, teachers, and students to opt out of overbearing testing regimens is challenging corporate education reformers and public officials who are favorable to their efforts.

Tests have been the key false “evidence” that school profiteers have used to “prove” that public schools are not doing the job and that private charters are once those schools are in place.

But their clever plans aren’t going very well for them right now.  

Tulsa becomes the latest pressure point

Two brave teachers in Tulsa, Oklahoma refused to administer tests of questionable quality that created observable trauma for very young children. They also refused to give surveys that are intended to look like quantification when they are so much voodoo opinion collecting.

Thanks to a story by long-time Tulsa World education reporter Andrea Eger, the rest of the U.S. and even the world have heard about them. The story was picked up by numerous news outlets and even Fox News nationally.

Later in the week, here is what Washington Post Education writer Valerie Straus said on her blog Answer Sheet about the teachers:

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are highly regarded first-grade teachers at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They wrote an open letter to the parents of the children in their classes that explains why they have decided not to administer a standardized test known as the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) or student surveys that they believe violate students’ privacy.

The two teachers are part of a small but growing number of teachers who are refusing to administer standardized tests that they think are harmful to their students and publicly explaining why they are doing so, sometimes at the risk of being fired.

Education writer Dr. John Thompson has given a good rundown of that situation at Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue blog.

Tulsa supt latest to show panic about testing opt-out
ballard, superintendent
Supt of Tulsa Public Schools, Dr. Keith Ballard, Credit: NewsOn6.com

In Oklahoma, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Keith Ballard sent out an urgent email the same day that the two elementary teachers told parents of their intentions. He warned all teachers and staff that such behavior could not be tolerated.

There is some interesting and very telling language in his initial email and then his letter the next day as national media outlets started to report the resistance.

Ballard’s first response by email was focused more  on what he believed to be agreements between Tulsa Public Schools and the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, or TCTA. It discusses in detail the justification for using the student surveys for teacher evaluations along with other instruments.

His response shows little acknowledgement of the actual concerns of the two teachers, which was the impact that excessive time testing and taking surveys had on the children.

The highest caliber research shows that the instrument is highly reliable when given to students. It must be remembered that the students who fill out the surveys spend more time in the classroom with the teacher than anyone else. The research also indicates that the results are highly predictive of the teachers’ impact on student learning. There are controls in place during the processing of the survey answers to guard against careless or inappropriate answering of the surveys.

The next day, after the two teachers started to make it into national news, Ballard issued a letter that much more directly took the two teachers to task. The letter closed with this: “As for teachers ‘opting out’ . . . opting out is not an option.”

In that letter Ballard includes condescending language that reveals much about his approach to the two teachers.

At one point in the letter he refers to them as “young authors”. At another point he refers to them as “beginning teachers”. Most telling is toward the end of the letter where he writes,

…teachers unfamiliar with techniques that use reading and math data to guide instruction don’t understand how valuable it is when customizing instruction for students.

See, if they just had more experience and understood things better, they would agree with him and wouldn’t be causing all of this trouble.

Again, he misses the true issue here, which is the time administering tests and surveys to small children for the sake of data-gathering on a large scale in the district.

In fact, the two teachers very clearly made their case as to just how much time and effort was spent in the classroom prepping for and administering the many tests and surveys that they district mandated. Then they gave four student examples without giving names to illustrate the impact that five tests and a survey have on the children who sit in front of those teachers every day.

It will be interesting to see over time how this develops.

Heavy-handed responses to resistance increase

In 2014 the news has been sprinkled with stories of parents and teachers encouraging others to opt their children out of massive standardized testing.

The response in some places has been civil and conciliatory toward those opposed to testing.

But, in other places, like Chicago, school officials have gotten tough on these boycotts of tests because they are the key to the whole privatization process. According to a report by Monty Neil of Fairtest

Activists often encountered hostile bureaucratic responses, which tended to be more harsh in lower-income schools and communities, particularly ones that are heavily black or Latino. Chicago authorities bullied parents into rescinding opt-out letters, then interrogated children without parents present when they refused to take the tests. School district officials threatened to fire teachers who boycotted — but did not follow through.

Not only on the parents, but even the elementary children themselves, were the recipients of harsh treatment if their parents had opted them out of a test. Children were made to sit and stare at a wall for hours as others took the long tests.

According to some reports from Illinois, parents and teachers have been told that opting out of tests was “illegal”. It’s not, by the way.

Philadelphia has long suffered under the state “reforms” that increasingly defunded public schools and then turned over that money to for-profit charters that depend heavily on testing to generate data to “prove” their effectiveness.

Now, parents and teachers are starting to resist in organized ways as reported in this piece.

Panic in the boardroom?

Is there panic in the private investment firms that stand to make loads of money from privatizing public schools? No doubt there is, but so far we are seeing the push-back from those who follow their instructions, which would be the legislators and state education leaders who have pledged their allegiance to the whole reform/privatizing agenda.

We should watch as the Congress and legislatures start to take their seats again next year to see what legislation they will introduce to eliminate this growing resistance movement.

Why would they go to that trouble? As fellow education blogger, and middle school principal Rob Miller points out in one of this posts, the tests are the key to the whole attack on public schools and are the key to the smoke and mirrors data juggling that is meant to provide “proof” of the effectiveness of the private charter corporations meant to replace them.

If enough parents choose to opt out of tests, then the data house of cards falls apart. And they don’t want to let that happen. Millions of dollars have already been invested in testing, curriculum, legislation, buying legislators and governors, buying state school chiefs.


Here are some resources to get you started at resisting the testing smoke and mirrors of corporate takeovers of public schools.

Fairtest.org has compiled a very good report of testing resistance across the U.S. You can find it HERE on their site.

Fairtest addresses directly the biggest threat which is the loss of funding.  http://fairtest.org/why-you-can-boycott-testing-without-fear

One of the teachers resisting in Tulsa is a state contact for  the United Opt-Out movement. | http://unitedoptout.com/

To follow the resistance to the heavy-handed bullying that resisters are getting in Illinois and Chicago, on Twitter use the hashtag #parkthePARCC and follow @ILRaiseYourHand.

In coming days and months the opt-out movement is bound to grow. And it is the true core of the smoke and mirrors of public school privatization. We should expect the profiteers to fight back.