Public school districts in Connecticut that experience opt-out rates higher than 10 percent for two consecutive years could lose funding, the Connecticut Mirror and Hartford Courant report.
The US Education Department recently directed Connecticut and 12 other states to develop plans for dealing with the high number of students who refused to take tests used for accountability, under the requirements of the federal law known commonly as “No Child Left Behind,” which was still in full force and effect when those students or their parents decided not to take tests that the law requires schools to administer.
Many educators, however, consider letters like the one from the US Education Department to be not only a continuation of the department’s bullying posture with regard to the opt-out movement but also ineffective and unlikely to change the movement’s actions in any significant ways because the penalties are too small and unlikely to deter parents who want to opt their children out of certain standardized tests. That doesn’t mean education leaders won’t try to persuade the parents, though.
The approach of withholding funding from school districts that do not comply with the law “will ensure that districts meeting the standard are commended, those failing marginally are gently alerted, and those falling behind are strongly reminded of the potential consequences and provided support to remedy the situation,” the paper quoted Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell as writing in a letter to the federal government in December.
“Participation in state assessments is a matter of educational equity,” she wrote, adding that the state “is not pleased with the low participation rate in some districts during 2014-15.”
The opt-out end game
The “opt-out movement” saw a dramatic increase during the 2014-15 school year. Leaders of the movement generally are driven by concerns from parents and teachers that students spend “too much school time” taking or being prepared for testing that provides too little educational benefit to students. In other words, the gains don’t justify the amount of testing.
But accountability advocates are driven by different motivators, including the fact that certain subgroups, such as special education students and English language learners, have been tested at higher rates than they were before the days of NCLB, forcing schools and states to address issues of educating these subgroups of Americans.
The United Opt-Out National movement organization focuses not only on testing but on resisting what it considers education reform efforts driven by for-profit corporations rather than educators driven by a higher-quality education for students in America. “We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue,” the organization writes on its website.
Standardized tests, developed and reported mainly by large corporations, including Pearson, are just one tool used by corporate reformers, the organization asserts, to dismantle a public school system. Corporate reformers would counter that claim by saying the public school system, as led by educators all these years, is neither serving a large number of “all Americans” nor based on true “democracy” in an “anti-racist” world; it therefore could use some reforming.
Both sides of the debate, however, by taking the action they prescribe—standardized testing on the part of reformers or opting out on the part of United Opt-Out—perpetuate the very problem they seek to resolve. Under NCLB, testing has given fuel to efforts to shut down public schools in communities that are then decimated by the lack of educational opportunity and choice given to students. But choice itself, in the form of corporate-run chain charter networks, is also lost in these neighborhoods by the loss of those public, neighborhood-centric schools the accountability movement would seek to develop, given its original intentions.