Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Little Piece of the Opt Out Movement

The Opt Out Movement is an unorganized, spontaneous attempt by students and parents – and we can assume, with the support of some teachers – to stem the rising tide of standardized testing by external agencies. The movement is opposed by politicians, testing companies, and the federal government. A recent event brings to the forefront the dynamics underlying the Opt Out Movement.

Jim Vacca teaches an Advanced Placement class in Language Arts at Boulder (CO) High School. Boulder High was a site for the try-out of the PARCC test – the Pearson company’s entry into the Common Core testing business. The administration of Boulder High was prepared for a bit of opting out after the cross town Fairview High School students staged a huge walk out in protest of the state assessment test earlier in the year. Boulder High students were told that if they opted out of the PARCC that they were to attend study hall when the test was administered.

But Jim Vacca’s students were more interested in learning than twiddling thumbs in study hall or serving as guinea pigs for the Pearson company. They asked Vacca to hold their regular AP Language Arts class, and he did.

The Boulder High administration did not take kindly to Vacca’s act of insubordination, and they informed Vacca that he would no longer be allowed to teach AP classes. His students have started a petition to have him reinstated as the AP Language Arts teacher.

We can draw several observations from this incident:

  1. The Opt Out Movement is a special middle class movement. Boulder High and Fairview High are not typical middle class schools. They are located in a city that is overwhelmingly Democrat in voting preference. (By city ordinance, pet owners must be referred to as “guardians” in official communications.) The Opt Out Movement has yet to penetrate where testing does most harm.
  2. As Diane Ravitch once observed, the hope for the success of the Opt Out Movement resides with the students and retired teachers. Teachers currently employed are easy targets for retaliation.
  3. School administrators at several levels are afraid of retaliation by state agencies and the federal government if they refuse to go along with external testing schemes. In a recent exchange on an internet discussion list, and employee of one of the big contractors in the assessment business was quick to point out that those opting out were risking the cut-off of federal funds.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

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