Standardized Tests: Should You Opt Out?

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Standardized tests have been the law of the land in most states for decades. These lengthy, mostly multiple-choice exams are designed to level the playing field so that teachers and students can be fairly evaluated each year. What kind of test are we talking about? Forty-three of the fifty states in the U.S. use a Common Core curriculum, administering exams such as the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), and others. Even the states that do not practice common core have rigorous tests of their own. Many parents and teachers are concerned that the PARCC and other state-mandated tests are corrupting the public education system. The relentless emphasis on scores in recent years has led many parents to “opt out”, or remove their children from testing. There’s also a rise in the number of students who are homeschooled or privately educated as a way of opting out of Common Core altogether. If you’re a parent, boycotting Common Core, or standardized testing is certainly your right. But before you make a decision for your child, here’s some helpful information from both sides of the argument:

Reasons you SHOULD opt out:

1. Less pressure for your child. Some students are advanced academically; however, they simply don’t test well. Test anxiety is an unfortunate reality for many kids, so regardless of what they learned, they may not be able to show that on test day. Younger children are especially vulnerable to test-related strain. Taking the emphasis away from scores would give your kids a chance to relax and enjoy learning again.

2. The tests don’t tell the whole story. Children have a wide variety of talents and abilities, but very few of those are represented on the test. In the real world, problem-solving skills, creativity, honesty, determination, and other qualities will be more useful than the ability to pick the right answer on a multiple-choice exam. Only hands-on learning activities and the opportunity to interact with others will teach those kinds of skills.

3. Testing does not equal learning. If the goal of these exams is to raise the bar for education, then policymakers might want to consider this: After No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was included in Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2002, the U.S. slipped from 18th in the world in math to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading.* And, despite how much the test is emphasized, the common core does not require states to test students at all. So if it isn’t required, why are we making tests the focus of our education system?

4. If enough students opt out, lawmakers will take notice. The amount time and effort it takes for teachers and students to prepare for tests is unbelievable. Most state governments spend in excess of a billion dollars each year on materials and training. Just think of the opportunities that schools could provide if they had more of their time and money back. If enough parents opt out, it sends a message to the government that our children deserve better.

Reasons NOT to opt out:

1. You’ll be able to see your child’s progress. The goal of exams, such as the PRACC, is to give teachers, administrators, and parents a snapshot of how kids are growing as they move through their school years. Without testing, you won’t receive those potentially helpful results. (Wouldn’t you want to know if your child were passing math at school while failing math on a statewide test?)

2. Schools depend on the data. Without the test scores of all of its students, the results of your school’s results will be skewed. (And in states like New York, where whole classrooms are opting out, the statistics are extremely inaccurate.) In addition to the helpful data that testing provides, many states are now basing teacher pay on how students perform on tests. Truthfully, your school and its teachers may suffer hefty consequences if you choose to opt out.

3. Standardized testing holds schools accountable. One thing all parents, teachers, and legislators agree on is that we want the best education possible for our students. One of the primary reasons for testing is to assess the effectiveness and accuracy of the curriculum schools are teaching. Perhaps the curriculum is wonderful, but the students still aren’t getting it. Or maybe teachers aren’t using the instructional materials that they should. A standardized test is a relatively quick, reasonably reliable way to highlight any problem areas. Then, weak areas of learning can be fixed instead of continuing year after year.

4. Your child could lose valuable experience. Believe it or not, standardized tests do impact your child’s college prospects. College entrance exams, like the ACT and the SAT, are still the standard for most universities in the United States. Studies have shown that students who are accustomed standardized tests perform better on future exams. You might consider today’s Common Core exam as practice for college-bound students.

* Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education at the National Research Council, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, (1.3MB),, 2011

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Heather A. Turley

Heather A. Turley is a former fine arts educator in the state of Texas with ten years of teaching experience. She holds an MFA in creative writing for media from Full Sail University and a BFA in theatre arts from Abilene Christian University. Heather has and produced several children’s plays, and has written fine arts and physical education curriculum for children ages 2 – 18.