Assignment: Education – Opting-out of standardized tests

Standardized testing is in full swing in Wisconsin

The “opt-out” movement is growing across the country.

According to the most recent Gallup Poll done in May of last year, more than half of Americans, 54 percent, say standardized tests are not helpful to teachers.

As a result, more parents are now deciding to opt out of standardized tests.

In the La Crosse School District, however, only three students have opted out of the Badger Exam this spring.

The standardized test is being given to students for the first time this year in grades three through eight. The Bratt family is opting out.

“We need to come at this from what’s best for our child,” said Tracey Bratt.

Tracey Bratt has four children, two of whom should be taking the Badger Exam this year.

“When we talked about what’s our intention for our child’s education, one of the things that we come back to as parents is we want them to acquire as much knowledge that they possibly can and the critical thinking skills it’s going to take to become a learner,” said Bratt. “What we found as we talked about testing was that that action of taking a test wasn’t matching our intention.”

Bratt feels the best measure of student progress comes from the classroom teacher.

“They are constantly assessing our children and taking exams within the curriculum they’re studying, reading papers that my child has written, and giving them feedback, looking at projects that they’re turning in,” said Bratt. “So, assessment is continually happening in the classroom, and it’s happening in a way that’s meaningful.”

However, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers believes there is still a place for standardized tests.

“As a parent and as state superintendent, I always feel talking with your teacher is the best way to find out how your kid is doing,” said Evers. “But it (a standardized test) does serve a good purpose. It provides data  for district improvement efforts.”

Bratt and her husband opted to keep their children out of the tests this year, along with one other family in the La Crosse School District, which is typical for any given year.

“We have a policy in our district, and most districts do, I’m sure, that actually allows people to opt out of curriculum areas or topics that they think are concerning,” said Randy Nelson, La Crosse School District superintendent.

But Nelson says many school districts probably don’t publicize this option when it comes to standardized tests.

“And the reason it’s not is that school districts and schools are punished if more than 5 percent of the students do not take the test,” said Nelson.

Federal law says school districts have to test 95 percent of their students. The state of Wisconsin will penalize a district for not reaching that goal by reducing its score on the district’s report card by five or 10 points.

“Some of the things that’s being discussed at the legislative level right now is that when a school perennially scores at the low level, then they should be privatized, taken over by charter schools, etc., and so those pieces have not been completely flushed out,” said Nelson.

The unknown consequences of a school district’s low report card scores have many educators concerned about the negative impacts if too many parents opt out of standardized tests. Bratt understands the worry.

“If you’re concerned about funding for our schools, if you’re concerned about teachers’ salaries being affected, if you’re concerned about your school’s funding being affected by opting out, you should pick up the phone and call your elected officials,” said Bratt. “You should pick up the pen in the voting booth and vote for those that you think are going to support public education. But you should not ask your child to pick up a pencil or click on a mouse on a test you feel is wrong for them.”

The state superintendent of public instruction says there will always be some form of standardized testing. But he does believe more dialog is needed about the purpose of the tests.

“I think that after this test is over, we will encourage districts to take a look at all the tests again whether they provide meaning and so on,” said Evers.

And while Bratt hopes for change to come to public education, she feels parents are the only people who have the power to make change by opting out.

“I need the schools to not be teaching my child how to take a test,” said Bratt. “I need the schools to be teaching my child how to learn.”

That is the standard by which Bratt holds educators accountable.