Last spring, while his eighth-grade classmates took state standardized tests, Tucker Richardson woke up late and played basketball in his Delaware Township, N.J., driveway.
Tucker’s parents, Wendy and Will Richardson, are part of a small but growing number of parents nationwide who are choosing to opt their children out of standardized testing by keeping them home on test days.
“I’m just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it’s being used to define what’s happening in classrooms,” said Will Richardson, an educational consultant and former teacher. “These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They’re meant to find out what kids know.”
Loosely called the “opt-out movement,” an assortment of Facebook groups and websites make the case for parent-approved absences. While it’s difficult to know how many absences are caused by students opting out, versus staying home because they’re sick, more parents are joining these online groups: The Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests Facebook group has 3,256 followers.
Parents oppose standardized testing for myriad reasons: The tests stress out young students. They don’t feel comfortable with schools using the tests to gauge teacher performance. They fear corporate influence is overriding education. They don’t like how test prep is narrowing curricula to the minimum needed to pass an exam.
Last year in Washington, D.C., a group of parents and students protested standardized testing outside the Department of Education. In Oregon, students organized a campaign persuading their peers to opt out of tests. And a group of students in Providence, R.I., dressed like zombies and marched in front of the Statehouse to protest a requirement that students must achieve a minimum score on a state test in order to graduate.
Many parents and students face few consequences for opting out of testing. Most parents choose to keep their younger children home, not older students for whom tests are often a graduation requirement.
But schools face real financial consequences. The federal government gave some states waivers for No Child Left Behind, which requires school districts to have at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing or risk losing funding. Districts are also concerned about how low school rankings—driven by test scores—can affect their reputation.