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Washington Teachers' Union Supports Families Opting Out Of State Testing

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Flickr Photo/mammal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The state’s largest teachers’ union has passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests. The union also promotes opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium state test coming next school year to align with the new Common Core State Standards.

Noam Gundle, who teaches science at Ballard High School in Seattle, introduced the motion at the Washington Education Association representative assembly in Spokane on Friday.

"This motion is about promoting positive learning in the classroom, as opposed to a fixation on testing," Gundle said.

Although many teachers and parents agree with that sentiment, Gundle said they often aren’t aware that state and federal law does allow students to opt out of standardized tests.

He predicts that as teachers and families become aware of students’ rights, the growing national opt-out movement will flourish. "When parents do organize, they have a lot more power in a lot of ways than teachers do, because they’re the ones that schools and administrators and testing companies listen to," Gundle said.

Recommendations from the April 4 motion state that the WEA shall:

1. Support the rights of parents/guardians to collaborate with teachers to determine appropriate options for assessment of student proficiency if opting out of statewide standardized assessments.

2. Encourage its local affiliates to work alongside student and parent leadership groups in promoting opt-out for Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests whenever possible.

3. Inform members of current student and parent organizations’ opt-out efforts through existing communication vehicles. The link to the OSPI form for parents to opt-out of state tests shall be made available to members via email.

Opt-Out Could 'Hurt Schools, District, State'

At the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, spokesman Nathan Olson objected to the motion. "We think that all students should take the test," Olson said. "The feds mandate them for a reason."

Under the federal law known as No Child Left Behind, students who refuse a test earn a zero – and the federal government can penalize schools that underachieve on standardized tests.

"To refuse to take the test, I think it only hurts the school, the district, and ultimately the state," Olson said.

Olson acknowledged that Washington state currently has a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law that exempts schools and districts from federal strictures for low test scores. However, he predicts the state will lose its waiver, which would once again make standardized test scores more relevant.

Some districts, including Seattle, also use standardized test scores in the teacher evaluation process.

State test scores are still relevant for many parents, who consider them a useful way to gauge their children’s academic progress.

For those who consider the tests a waste of time, or too stressful for their kids, opting out is handled differently depending on the district.

In Seattle, a district spokeswoman said students are either supervised in another room, or they can stay home during the test.

Last year, Seattle received national attention after teachers at Garfield High School voted to refuse to give students the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress test. Teachers at other district schools followed suit, and many families opted their students out of the test.

Following the protest, Seattle Public Schools cut back on the number of students required to take the MAP test.

According to state data, students across Washington refused to take state tests 5,693 times in 2013.

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