The New York State Department of Education reported in August that twenty percent of students in grades three through eight were absent from the annual state test without a “recognized, valid” reason.In New Jersey, nearly fifteen percent of high school juniors refused to take the state exam this spring, according to NJ.com, citing a New Jersey Department of Education memo to Superintendents. In Indiana, the Superintendent of the Year counseled parents to home-school their kids during test week.
In August, the New York Times reported strong “test opt out” movements also in Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. United Opt Out, a national umbrella organization will hold a conference in Philadelphia next February. The Opt Out movement is clearly having an impact on the accountability regime that has dominated American education for two decades.
Meanwhile, public officials charged with enforcing test mandates are growing nervous. Their reactions range from denial (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) to threats (Federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan). On Capitol Hill, Congress is backing off strict testing requirements.
But where do we go from here? The forces against our national testing mania are an odd coalition of libertarians who want “government off my back” along with progressives driven by a vision of education for “the whole child”, and civil rights activists who are split on the merits of testing as a means for addressing inequality.
I believe the way forward is to summon into public prominence the wide array of excellent schools and educational institutions that are virtually waiting in the wings for just this moment. These are institutions that have been pushed to the margins during the last two decades and have quietly, tenaciously, subversively insisted on excellence in the face of the overwhelming industrialization of schools.
If we can inform this opt out moment with the good work being done by such places around portfolios, juried exhibitions and peer review, we stand a chance of moving public education in the direction of high quality teaching and learning for all students. Such practices and the principles that guide them could become the new direction for public education in an emerging post-industrial era. But we need to get the word out. Each of us needs to talk up exemplary schools in our own communities that are already engaged in thoughtful and educationally sound assessment practices.
To help move the conversation along, here are three such schools in my neck of the woods:
Mission Hill School (www.missionhillschool.org) a Boston public pilot school (K-8)
University Park Campus School (www.universitypark.worcesterschools.org) a Worcester public secondary school
Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School (www.theparkerschool.org) a public secondary charter school in Central Massachusetts
There are also organizations that support good work. Here are two examples.
The Coalition of Essential Schools (www.essentialschools.org)
The New York Performance Standards Consortium (http://performanceassessment.org/)
Please do your part by getting the word out about great schools that you know.
We need a social movement to re-make our public schools as an engine of democracy, a source of economic uplift for all our youth, a lever for social justice, and places of joyful learning. We can do this!