No Child Left Behind has not gone away.
The testing mandate remains because Kansas and 42 other states incorporated most of NCLB into their state education standards. As states convert from their various waiver agreements to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the teach-to-the-test mindset remains in full force.
Yes, there will no longer be the impossible “100 percent proficient-by-2014” requirement. But the damage from NCLB testing continues, and parents of school children have the power to stop it.
In Kansas, we have seen permanent losses of art and music teachers as well as teachers of other untested subjects. Our curriculum will continue to narrow as long as state assessments in a few subjects continue to rank, sort and impose consequences. This narrowed curriculum shortchanges our students.
In some Kansas schools, state assessment scores are being misused to evaluate students with learning disorders. This is educational malpractice because these state assessments are not designed to diagnose learning disorders.
And despite cheerleading from above to promote “soft skills,” teachers must continue to “drill-and-kill” student learning excitement as long as external tests are used to standardize teaching.
The way to stop this teach-to-the-test oppression, narrowing of the curriculum, and misuse of the one-size-fits-all testing rests in the hands of Kansas citizens: Parents have the full right to opt their child out of the state tests. Period.
Across the United States, the Opt-Out movement has been spreading. New York, Colorado, Connecticut and Rhode Island have seen significant increases in parents who refuse to allow their children to participate in this testing. Kansas parents have a full right to pull their students from the state assessments as well.
The new federal ESSA contains the requirement that states test at least 95 percent of their students for purposes of accountability and mathematical significance. But there is no authority for Kansas schools to compel students to take this test. Nor should there be any hint of coercion or threat of retaliation.
Schools naturally want as many students to take the assessments as possible. They want students to take the computerized test seriously and not just strike random answers — so-called “happy clickers.” Toward this end, schools have had cheerleading sessions and thrown parties — a sad lesson for our students in institutional coercion.
Unfortunately, in past years, I have received reports of schools posting scores in public to shame low-scoring students, a highly unethical practice if not a violation of FERPA. Another school threw a party just for students who passed the proficiency level; but any student whose parent opted-them-out had to sit in the non–party room with the failed students. Such practices deserve condemnation.
According to the Jan. 20 Education Week, last year the USDE had to send letters to 13 states with test-participation rates below 95 percent at either the district or state level. In New York, one-fifth of the students did not take the English Language Arts test last year. This year, the Colorado opt-out movement is aiming to triple opt-outs to 300,000. In Colorado, it is the Democrats for Education Reform that is defending testing and opposing this opt-out. But in other states, the opt-out movement is non-partisan.
Despite the renaming of NCLB, this over-testing continues. It is expected that more states will see more opt-outs and more will drop below the federal 95-percent test participation rate. Only parents have the power to bring this one-size-fits-none testing to a halt.
• To restore non-tested subjects to the curriculum.
• To prevent misuse of the assessment for taking students off of IEPs.
• To stop the continued deadening push to teach-to-the-test.
Kansas parents should seriously consider opting their child out of the state assessment this year — for the sake of their child, and for the sake of all Kansas schoolchildren.
John Richard Schrock is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University.