Gov. Cuomo and state legislators approved education reforms last week that aim to make teachers even more focused on teaching to the test. His plan misuses state-mandated standardized student tests to evaluate teachers — a purpose for which they are not and never were intended.
While tests have a role to play in accountability, the focus on testing above all else has provoked a huge backlash from New Yorkers of all ideologies and backgrounds. Now parents are fighting back in an effort to change the entire system.
Parents of students in grades 3-8 throughout New York state have been leading a grassroots movement to opt their children out of standardized tests and stand up to the tyranny of high-stakes testing in our classrooms. And the movement is growing fast.
For parents concerned about the harm being caused by this increasing focus on testing, “opting out” is a powerful option — a kind of civil disobedience in response to a testing regime imposed by politicians, many of whom haven’t spent any significant time in a public school classroom. Last year, over 60,000 students opted out of tests in New York state, and the number is growing by the day.
Opting out sends a powerful message to the Governor, the legislature, and the Board of Regents: that enough is enough when it comes to overtesting our kids, demonizing teachers, and undermining public education. The parent-led movement is bringing pressure on politicians to change the teacher evaluation system to one that works for all of our kids, in high-income districts and low-income districts alike.
The process for opting out is simple. It involves editing a sample letter, emailing or mailing it to your child’s principal, teachers, and guidance counselor, and following up with a phone call. Opting-out does not impact the student or teacher, and there is no evidence your school will lose funding. (An important note: if your child attends a school that is either rated or close to being rated as a “Focus” or “Priority” school, opting out may result in your school having to comply with additional state or federal requirements — but there is still no evidence that doing so will result in funding being lost.)
The movement is already starting to shift the politics of public education across New York state. Two-thirds of New Yorkers agreed in a recent poll that teacher pay and tenure should not be tied to students’ performance on these standardized tests.1 And Dr. Kathleen Cashin, a member of the Board of Regents, recently came out in opposition to linking standardized tests heavily to evaluations of educators, saying she could “not endorse the use of the current state tests for teacher/principal evaluation since that was not the purpose for which they were developed.”2
The deadline for opting out of spring tests is soon — April 13th — so if you are interested in doing so, you need to act quickly.
This is changing the entire debate around public education in New York state — and we urge you to learn more about it.