Contrary to the example given by Lynnell Mickelsen in “Six thoughts about the opt-out movement” (March 24) many of those behind the movement are parents and students (as well as teachers). In New York, Chicago and other cities, parents are exhausted by the anxiety in their homes when even the smallest of their children, kindergartners, become stressed out, in tears and sick to their stomachs as testing goes on and on. Many of those parents are parents of color.
We are a movement of taxpayers who want educators to be able to teach real content, real critical thinking, real imaginative lessons. We are parents who want kids to enjoy school, become motivated by math or reading or science or art, and who are worried by their son or daughter’s disengagement from the classroom. We are a movement of students who want dialogue, story-telling, social justice math instruction, extra time for science in their school day.
More and more we are reading that standardized tests do not measure what our children are learning and often measure how well kids can fill in bubbles on a sheet. Two years ago a group of students talked to me about how their teachers aren’t allowed to teach what they want to teach — civil rights history, the Harlem renaissance, poverty and its consequences, for example — because they are bound by “focused instruction,” which details exactly what they must teach each day to get ready for math and reading tests.
This was not a group of teachers who were telling me this, but rather students who are great observers of those adults who are in charge in their schools. And when students in north Minneapolis do poorly on these tests, do you really think it is because they are less intelligent, less able, than their white counterparts in southwest Minneapolis? Could it be that the tests are biased, or that students of color experience “stereotype threat” with testing? Could it be that the curriculum, which is geared for results on these rigid and narrow tests, is not what our students need to flourish? Could it be that one of the best predictors of test scores is ZIP code?
Even today Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama are rethinking the role that testing is playing in our school day, our school year. Perhaps this is a sign that testing has gotten out of control. That is all that teachers and students and parents are saying — not that they want no tests at all, not that they don’t want teachers evaluated, not that they don’t want extra resources in schools where they are needed the most, but that testing is driving the curriculum, driving the school day (can you say 20 minutes of recess for kids because they need to spend more time on test prep?) and driving some of the best teachers, new and older, out of the profession.
I believe it is disrespectful to parents and students in all parts of our city to discount their part in the opt-out movement. We all want to know that our schools are providing the best, most diverse and culturally competent instruction to our kids. To do that requires a great shift in how we fund and envision schooling, how we decide which students are “gifted” and which are not, how we decide whose point of view must be expressed in our classrooms, and whose story is represented in our history, and who gets suspended and whose parents are invited into the community of the school.
All this is the work we need to do. We cannot do it if our hands are tied by testing companies and canned curriculum. We cannot do it if we cannot come together as students, teachers, parents, principals and staff to structure each school in a way that will reach our young people. Opting out does not mean opting out of all tests. What it means is opting out of the insanity, the regimentation and the bias that standardized testing inflicts on our schools. Please, no more insults to our intelligence.
Julie Landsman, of Minneapolis, is a writer, consultant and retired teacher.