Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why Teachers Should Support the Opt Out Movement

When a student “opts out” of a standardized test, the student actually participates in it.  He’s not breaking the law, he’s following the statute that mandates participation in the statewide assessment program.  She’s not skipping it, she’s simply refusing to offer data.  It’s an act of civil disobedience that makes a statement saying education policy is broken.  What we are doing to students, teachers, and schools is wrong.  I am more than a test score.

The Opt Out movement is causing a bit of a ruckus, and I love it.  I believe all teachers should love it.  I have made previous claims of a teacher’s authority to assess student knowledge (here, here, here, and here), and I believe it is our professional duty to refine and redefine how we do it.  Current education policies strip away our authority to assess student knowledge and we have yielded that authority without issue.  We need to have an issue.  A serious issue.  The Opt Out movement helps.

When a student “opts out” of standardized assessment, the student is giving the teacher the assessment authority.  The student is saying “you don’t need this test to see what I know”, “my teacher knows what I know”, “my class performance will tell you what I know”, and “you should trust my teacher, because I do.”

Those who disagree with the movement say the most insulting things about us, and we need to begin to see it this way.  A member of our district’s school board was quoted in a local newspiece saying "As a parent you want to know your child is learning while they are in school."  We hear the same question over and over:  “How will we know how our child is doing?”  “How will we know how our child compares?”  As teachers, we should feel highly insulted by these questions.  This is a slap to our face and we don’t even know it.  This is our job!  This is our profession!  This is our livelihood.  We are the ones who can tell you how your child is doing.  We are the ones who can tell you how your child “compares” (not sure why that is important anyway, see the above video clip).  We are the ones who can tell you what your child knows, what your child struggles with, what your child needs, and where your child excels.  Our job is to know these things about students.  If my colleagues need standardized tests and data to tell them these things, they are not good at their job.  If one of my colleagues is relying mostly on data spreadsheets and numbers to tell him about his students, he is not suited to be in the classroom and he should find a new job.  He’s making me look bad.  I take pride in my work, and so should my colleagues.

I understand why a teacher would not support the Opt Out movement.  Some of my colleagues simply do what they are told.  Some of my colleagues are non-confrontational.  Some of my colleagues are used to the way things are.  Some of my colleagues are concerned about employment contracts and pay.  We have a test-based accountability system.  We have VAM scores that impact our evaluation.  We spend almost every “Professional Development” workshop on high stakes testing administration and management.  Most of our faculty meetings concern tests, test data, or testing schedules.  Our professional environment is centered on test scores.  Some of us even judge ourselves based on our student test scores (I used to...USED TO).  I understand why a teacher would have difficulty detaching herself from this environment to focus on our professional authority.  I understand why a teacher would view his students the way the school views them: by a score.  I do not fault my colleagues (as long as they are professionals). 

I do, however, implore them to take a step back.  I want my colleagues to ask themselves if this is currently the profession they dreamed of, or if the trajectory of the profession is in line with their aspirations of being a teacher.  Are we doing right by students?  Are the education policies we are forced to implement the best for our students’ futures?  I ask my colleagues if they are pleased with high stakes testing and test-based accountability.  I ask my colleagues if they would like to see a change.  I ask my colleagues if they have courage.  I ask my colleagues if they are willing to do what is right for the future.  I ask my colleagues if they are willing to fight for a worthy cause: to return education to a process of learning and discovery. 

I tell my colleagues:  we have an opportunity to change the policies.  We have an opportunity to restore authority to our profession.  We must support and encourage students and families to participate in the Opt Out movement.