Sunday, April 15, 2012

Making a case for opting out of harmful standardized testing

Here in New York where I work everyone knows that schools shut down during the last couple weeks of April and are transformed into testing torture mills that kids are forced to enter and endure. Suddenly once vibrant classrooms are stripped of memories of learning and children's work across the year. That's all torn off the walls so children under fluorescent lights can only stare at blank walls for days on end. Technology has no place in the testing chambers. Connection to the outside world is forbidden.  There are tears and vomiting and test booklet instructions on how to handle each.  

It's the 21st century Milgram Experiment where teachers are paid to do something that at some point they realize is terribly wrong. However, like with Milgram, where teachers in training were paid to administer deadly shocks to their victims, although many are very uncomfortable administering these tests, and even though nearly all have paused and questioned this sick experiment on our children, most go through with it. There are some that do decide to give up the money they are paid to inflict such torture and pursue interests more alignment with their ethics and morals...but still the torture goes on. 

There is a phenomenon referred to as The Stockholm Syndrome in which people who are held captive begin to align with the captor and take on the captor’s ways rather than show empathy for their own suffering or the suffering of other captives. Sadly, many parents who have handed the control of their children over to the government, seem to be showing such empathy for those who cause their children's suffering. In fact over and over they acknowledge the testing torture is wrong, but they don't want the "school to suffer" so they send their children through the doors. The children become victims who are forced to sit for hours taking this test, even if they don't speak the language... even if they can not read it... even if it makes them sick

Here's the thing. Many of the smartest people in the field of education know this is wrong. They are shouting it out like Will Richardson and I have done. They are writing it out. They are tweeting it out. Somehow the government's demands have been able to dismiss these warnings and the schools continue to force students to drill, kill, and bubblefill.  

Informed parents are the key to affecting change and opting their children out of tests. This sends an important message of support for teachers and indicates the parental desire to do what they know is best for their children. To follow are materials I've been reading to make the case against standardized testing.

  • Opting Out
    Educator and parent Will Richardson explains why he is opting his children out of standardized testing.
  • Late-night Twitter Chat about the detriments of standardized tests
    Here is a conversation I was involved in with amazing educators such as Joe Bower, Will Richardson, Gary Stager, Mary Ann Reilly, John T. Spencer, and others
  • Third Grader's Angst--Test Month Is Here
    J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., an expert on childhood literacy, reading, and spelling wrote to me several times to ask that I please share his important article with educators. 
  • The Over Testing of America and Halt the Testing Madness Gary Stager wrote these fantastic pieces in 2001 and 2003 respectively. God this insanity has been growing strong on for a LONG time. Stager also created a website called PencilsDown to help coordinate standardized testing opposition in communities around the country. There you'll find a great opt out letter as well as plenty articles outlining the perils of standardized testing. Visit this link and this one
  • 12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing Lisa Nielsen (that's me) challenges the system with 12 reasons that an educator opposes standardized testing.
  • A pep rally for tests? What we need is a "prep" rally
    Parent, author, speaker, instigator, blogger Will Richardson discusses testing in the Huffington Post
  • Parents and educators, you know the truth. It is time to get up and stand up to the forces that you know are not good for children. If you are a teacher, pick your favorite article from above and share it with children. If you are a parent, do not subject your children to this. Do something that matters. Go on a family vacation, bond with your kids, learn through exploring the world. 

    Whomever you are, you can unite with others in your state to opt out of testing. Concerned educators and parents have come together to create brand-new, easy-to-find, state-by-state groups on Facebook where anyone who cares, can come together to mobilize and take back control of their children’s freedom to learn. You can join others interested in opting out in your state in two ways:

    1) Go to Facebook and type in the search: Opt out of State Standardized Tests — Your State i.e. Opt Out of State Standardized Tests – Ohio
    2) Go to the page url: i.e.
    As more and more parents get on board and take back control of what is best for their children, new possibilities will arise and we can finally restore to our children the freedom to learn about what matters to them rather than what boosts the egos of politicians and lines the pockets of publishers. 


    1. I've been opting out for years and so have virtually all the parents in my small alternative (not a charter) public school program in CA. Only here's the problem: this year our district risks Program Improvement if all the participation numbers aren't up and that could negatively affect our school. If we don't all agree to test, we may not have a program to go back to. How does opting out help now? No one will cry for us except ourselves....

      1. Hi Heddi. Has anyone tried meeting with Sam Farr about this? It's likely that he's your congressperson, or the congressperson of others who attend your public school. He's on my radar as just the sort of guy who would be helpful in writing legislation that protects districts from district/school sanctions based on failure to test 95% when people are opting out of tests. He's not on the relevant committee but judging from his record, I think he'd be willing to assist based on the human rights arguments alone. Give it a shot - @tbfurman , chicago

    2. The day will come when education will become education and not army drills and school will be called place of learning not the factory who manufacture people and label them with year of manufacturing.

      Either it is USA or Pakistan, standardized testing is destroying children.