Is “Opting Out” Copping Out?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 8 2014 @ 4:45pm

Anya Kamenetz observes the growing movement of parents keeping their kids home on standardized test days:

The spring of 2014 has seen a wave of grassroots activism against both standardized tests and the Common Core that Bob Schaeffer, a longtime activist with the group Fairtest, calls “unprecedented.” The numbers are small, but they’re found around the country.  … It is unusual for parent activists in heavily democratic Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to be on the same page with those in more conservative Syracuse, hundreds of miles away in Western New York. But the same pattern is repeating around the country. The convergence of resistance to the Common Core, a cause championed by libertarian and other right-wing groups, with resistance to state standardized tests, often backed by progressive teachers’ unions and civil rights groups, has led to what Schaeffer calls a “strange-bedfellows alliance.”

Michelle Chen is sympathetic to the movement in New York, where students are taking standardized tests this week. But Michelle Rhee slams the trend:

Opt out of measuring how well our schools are serving students? What’s next: Shut down the county health department because we don’t care whether restaurants are clean? Defund the water-quality office because we don’t want to know if what’s streaming out of our kitchen faucets is safe to drink? …

Tests serve many purposes: They chart progress. They identify strengths and weaknesses. They help professionals reach competency in their careers. All these measures are critical to improving public schools. After all, the children sitting in classrooms today are going to grow up and compete for jobs with people in India and China and Europe, not just with people in the state next door. It’s our civic duty to make sure these kids are ready.

Valerie Strauss pushes back:

The scores of the most important end-of-year standardized tests don’t actually come back to the districts until the summer, making it impossible for teachers to use the results to help tailor instruction to a particular child – if in fact the tests actually gave important information to the teacher. Which by and large they don’t, because so many of the tests are badly drawn. Even Rhee admits this in her op-ed:

We don’t need to opt out of standardized tests; we need better and more rigorous standardized tests in public schools. Well-built exams can tell us whether the curriculum is adequate. They can help teachers hone their skills. They can let parents know whether their child’s school is performing on par with the one down the street, or on par with schools in the next town or the neighboring state.

Well, if we need better and more rigorous tests, why has she condoned the use of badly constructed exams all these years?