Can Teachers Opt Out?

How do teachers resist the culture of high stakes testing and the continued participation in a system that is clearly not pedagogically sound and is purposively destructive to children, teachers, schools and communities?
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But if we don't all opt out, then teachers become complicit in their own demise and that of their students and communities-don't think for a moment that if you as a teacher or school "play by their rules" you will be rewarded -- the reformers goal is to sell you out.
-- Morna McDermott McNulty

Last year I blogged about the need for teachers to enter the "opt out" movement. For some teachers the idea of "opting out" might seem somewhat extreme and an action that is impossible. They are employed by school districts and are expected to carry out the daily duties associated with the job of classroom teacher. This also means doing things that are somewhat problematic -- especially when it comes to high stakes testing (HST).

It needs to be clearly stated that all the credible research conducted over the past 15 years does not support the testing movement as a positive reform (Unless you own Pearson or McGraw Hill or receive campaign contributions from these companies.). Testing has not closed the achievement gap. Testing has decimated the idea and practice associated with a liberal arts education. Testing has reduced overall learning. Testing has created intolerable teaching and learning conditions. The "least among us" are hit hardest by the high stakes testing regime. In other words, the reforms that have been forced on American public schools have been a disaster. Knowing this really makes it hard for teachers to "do their job" on a daily basis. However, how do teachers resist the culture of high stakes testing and the continued participation in a system that is clearly not pedagogically sound and is purposely destructive to children, teachers, schools and communities?

This question has been seriously debated on the United Opt Out face book page. While some (I am one) believe that active civil disobedience is the only action with the power to change things. Others have yet to be convinced. Below I present some of that conversation. Other than my own postings all authors' identities have been changed to protect them from harassment.

As a public school teacher, I do not encourage parents to opt out-of-state testing. I know my opinion may not be popular on this page, but I thank you in advance for your interest and open-mindedness. So here goes:

If I encouraged the parents at my school to pull their child from standardized testing, what type of parents would follow my advice? Only the most educated parents, who have children who are the most likely to earn a high score. If more of our high-scoring kids didn't take the test, it would lower our school's overall proficiency level. That would give the decision-makers the perception that our school is less effective and will result in more meddling from them and more time in the school day dedicated to test prep. As a school-teacher, my number one priority is to do what's best for our kids. My second priority is to do what's best for our school as whole. I'm afraid the opt-out movement satisfies neither of these priorities.

I would LOVE for us to do away with high-stakes testing. However, with respect, I simply do not see the opt-out movement as the optimal way to accomplish that goal. Teacher A.

The "data" and the research is widely known and has been published and discussed about the damaging effects of standardized testing to curriculum and learning. It hasn't changed policy makers' views on requiring these tests one iota because they are getting big money from the companies who are profiting off of this garbage. In fact, look around you, it is increasing and the stakes are higher because in many states like mine, teacher pay is tied to those scores. For ten years everyone, including teachers, has sat back and done nothing... as the big testing machine has taken over. It's time for parents, because obviously teachers are afraid of losing their jobs... Third week of school here in Florida and already the kids were taking practice BATS tests for four days! What are they? Predictors of how they will do on FCAT... At some point you must fight back. Teacher B

"No more! My kid is not data. The data will not be used to hurt my kid, his teacher, or his school. If this is too radical for you then find some other pansy group. No more negotiating! No more playing it safe. Our kids and teachers and schools may be stuck with high stakes tests, but that's only because of our failure to say NO!" Tim Slekar

"Teacher A has a point. Opting out of HST will have extremely negative short-term consequences for teachers and schools. Mortgages and groceries are excellent motivators for not rocking the boat. I am all for the end of testing, but opting out needs to be one face of a multi-faceted move for change." Teacher C.

"It is troubling to me how many of you are so quick to blame teachers for being complicit. As teachers, our number one priority is our students. As teachers, our job is what defines us. If we lose our jobs, we lose our identities... Please resist the urge to take the simple-minded approach that we are somehow "allowing" standardized testing to continue simply because we have a job to do. We are nowhere near in a position to stop this, but we're in a much better position than if we were unemployed." Teacher A

"Children, teachers, and communities (we) all have a lot at stake. But what 'we' have to lose is everything if High Stakes Testing continues. Remember the data the tests provide is and will be used to punish kids, teachers, schools and communities. If 'we' do not step up now, the public system of education in this country will be destroyed -- that includes the profession of teaching. Remember one of the major goals of the HST regime is the deprofessionalization of teachers and turning the act of teaching into a low wage technical job. A mortgage and a car payment won't be possible when you're not paid a living wage. Therefore those who feel their jobs are on the line -- you're right!" Tim Slekar

This is just a glimpse at the discussion. I do believe that teachers have a valid concern about their immediate future. However, without a concerted "opt out" movement that includes teachers and parents, the reformers and corporate hacks will successfully dismantle public schools and siphon off tax payer dollars in the creation of a new market that will destroy even the idea of a free and equal education for all.

  1. Can teachers articulate the new narrative: Data from High Stakes Tests is being used to hurt students, teachers, schools, and communities. Only option: OPT OUT!
  2. Is it too much to ask teachers to step up and "Opt Out?"
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