Third Strike Against Teacher Evaluation Schemes: Brave New Parents Opt Out

Creative Commons Strike Three by rundnd Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Creative Commons Little League Strike Three by rundnd Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The headline in Thursday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution was “Parents push back on required testing.”

Could the movement to Opt Out of high-stakes testing be the third strike against using high stakes testing to rate teachers? In an earlier post, two studies were reviewed that cast doubt on the use of VAM scores  (which are based on student achievement scores) and classroom observation systems to rate teachers.

There is a movement that begins in the homes of children whose parents have had it with their children being subjected to tests that not only create high anxiety, but are a dubious snapshot of student learning.

Marietta, Georgia

In Marietta, Georgia, where I live, a courageous family decided not to allow their children in elementary school to take the state CRCT’s two weeks ago. Met by the police claiming that they would be trespassing if they entered the school and their children did not take the CRCTs, the family went home, and stood their ground against the Marietta School District.

School officials use scare tactics claiming that there is no provision for parents to opt their children out of exams. But, there is no provision preventing parents from opting out. So, in Marietta, the parents were told their kids didn’t have to take the CRCTs.

Meg Norris, on a United Opt Out website has created a quick-reference guide for Georgia parents who want to opt out or refuse to have their children take state mandated high-stakes tests.

In the article mentioned at the top of the article, Meg Norris was quoted as saying:

Georgia parents have been told they must withdraw their child from school if they do not wish them tested.  Georgia parents have been told they will brought up in front of tribunals, sent to court, referred to DFACS for keeping children at home.  Children have been left out of parties and humiliated in front of their classmates.

But as you will see as you read ahead, there is support out there for parents who are brave enough to whether the resistance they will get, as the Marietta family did.


Edy Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement.  I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.

Joyce reported her observations to authorities in the state and district and the Austin American-Statesman, but in the end her concerns were dismissed by the superintendent (Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Atlanta’s new superintendent).  You can read Joyce’s report here.

Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.

Edy Chamness wrote to me that Joyce and Julie are not exaggerating when they described the horrible bullying practices using in Austin ISD.  She says:

I was banned from my kids’ elementary school for sharing information about the Opt Out Movement with parents. Our son started a new school this year and the administration seems decent. Unfortunately, everything at the school is totally geared toward test prep and practice testing. The vast majority of our son’s assignments are worksheet packets. Tons of work is assigned as nightly homework; most of it is skills-based instruction and memorization. The two elementary schools in my neighborhood, Mills & Kiker, are horrible. No enrichment programs, no literature-based reading instruction, no games for reinforcement or outdoor education. NOTHING but practice tests and worksheets. The only thing that matters is test scores.

Now, Director of Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests, Edy Chamness is one of many leaders of the Opt Out movement.  The Texas Opt Out group is very active, and offer a great deal of support to parents and teachers who acknowledge that the testing craze needs to be stopped, and one way to do this by taking action by not participating in any high-stakes tests.

The Nation

Opting Out or refusing to have students take state standardized tests is part of larger movement of a number of groups including FairTest, Parents Across America, Save our Schools, and the Network for Public Education.

Testing has become perverse.  It doesn’t have to be.  But we’ve gone to far, and the testing that is being mandated is unnecessary.  One Georgia Department of Education official said that we needed testing to find out how schools are doing, because, after all, the state is spending a lot of money on public education.

If we want to know how our schools are doing, there are better ways to answer that question than forcing millions of American students to spend their school days either preparing for tests, or sitting in front of computer, or at a desk to answer questions written by hired guns by corporations which charge at least $30 per student to do this!

The state of Georgia has just agreed to pay McGraw-Hill $110 million to develop a new battery of tests (to called the GMAP–Georgia Measures of Academic Progress to measure the academic progress of students on the Common Core.

Maybe the students should be paid for participating in these experiments. Maybe students should unionize, much like college students are doing who happen to be athletes.

We already have “data” we need to assess the performance of schools.  In 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called The Nations ReportCard was established and has been using low-stakes testing in reading, writing, math, science and other subjects to assess student achievement.

Not only do we have access to reports as they come out, but the NAEP has conducted long-term studies for us to look at, and more recently designed and carried out the Trial Urban District Assessment, bi-annual tests in reading, writing, math and science.  Using sampling and stratification, the NAEP selects a sample of students from public and private schools large enough to estimate performance by state.  Only about 60 students per school selected are tested.  No student has to sit for the entire test.  Each student takes part of the test, and scores are aggregated to set up averages.

By the way, the state of Georgia could use the same research design methods as NAEP to assess students in the state.  In fact, Georgia could use the CRCT, or the new GMAP in a low-stakes approach, thereby informing the state that it’s getting its money worth out of teachers and students, but also tell the school districts about their performance.  And there would be no need to test every kid.

If high-stakes testing is revoked, we will make one of the most important decisions in the lives of students and their families, and the educators who practice in our public schools.  Banning tests, throwing them out, eliminating them, what ever you wish to call it, will open the door to more innovative and creative teaching, and an infusion of collaborative and problem solving projects that will really prepare students for career and college.

Making kids endure adult anger is not what public education is about.  Why in the world are we so angry and willing to take it out on K-12 students?  Why do we put the blame on children and youth, and if they don’t live up to a set of unsubstantiated and unscientific standards and statistics, we take it out on teachers?

The best thing for students is throw the bums (tests) out.  The next best thing will be for teachers because without standardized test scores, there will be no way to calculate VAM scores as a method to evaluate teachers.

Strike Three!

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University