Guiding our kids into their fast-changing futures.

First Take: As Tests Add Stress, Some Parents Opt Out (Including Me)

Standardized test season is upon us here in the US and elsewhere (as if it ever really ends.) Here in my little corner of the world, state graduation exams have already been administered to high school juniors, and 3rd-8th graders are gearing up for their annual week of filling bubbles and writing formulaic responses to questions they’ve been drilled for off and on throughout the year. My kids are just so excited. Really. I mean it.

But what are the effects of the tests? This passionate op-ed by Colorado teacher Don Batt in the Denver Post suggests the one size fits all assessments are killing creativity in our kids and stifling their desire to learn. I’m looking at my own two teens and it’s hard to disagree. Meanwhile, Australian parents of 3rd and 5th year students are shelling out millions for NAPLAN test prep books, the national annual exams that according to a leading teacher’s union rep says “are not designed to be practiced or rehearsed.” Why the spend by parents? Widespread reports of kids so anxious about the test that they were getting physically ill from worry. Not great for developing a child’s love of learning, eh?

Some parents are saying “Enough!”, deciding to opt their kids out of the tests despite pushback.

I know exactly how they feel.

Last year, Wendy and I decided to opt Tucker out of the 7th Grade New Jersey ASK tests, and for the record, he’ll be staying home again this year in a couple of weeks when the 8th grade test is given. We thought long and hard about our decision, and you can read about our reasoning here at a blog post I wrote at the time. While we certainly have concerns over the stress that goes with these tests, our main objection was and still is the use of test scores to evaluate teachers (50% here in New Jersey) and schools. We’re not against assessment or teacher evaluation; far from it. But we are against simple-minded solutions to complex problems. And, to be honest, I have huge questions about the motives of those who are trumpeting reforms of this type.

But here’s the bigger issue, for me at least. Our emphasis on tests is primarily focused on content knowledge and fundamental skills which drastically reduces our time and emphasis on the things our kids really need to succeed in this modern world. Now that information, knowledge and teachers are a few clicks away on the Web, what’s important are those harder to measure qualities that are required of every child, namely creativity, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, self-direction, patience for problem solving and much more. None of that is on the test in any meaningful way. The test, as it’s currently constructed, does not reflect the reality of the learning world right now. And our tacit support for it is harming efforts to change schools in the way they need to be changed.

What can you do?

Opting out is a choice that each parent has. It’s our legal right, regardless of what people tell you. For more information, start at this resource page provided by Fair Test. Please let us know if we can answer any questions or provide more information.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Lisa Noble says:

    Way to go, Will. It’s not the easiest decision to pull your kids out of testing, and it’s one my spouse and I have weighed heavily. Both our boys wrote the provincial Grade 3 tests, and were blessed with a teacher who made it clear to them that the results had nothing to do with their report cards. However, our programming is heavily geared to success on the test. My kids are those the school wants to have there, as they help skew the results high. We’re not at the point of evaluating teachers with our results, but we do publish school results in the local paper, and our results do affect the funding and “professional development” we receive in the following year. Older small boy is in-line for the grade 6 test this year, and I think I may give him the choice of whether or not he chooses to write, and we’ll talk about pros and cons. In a year where my union has had a collective agreement forced upon us by the provincial government, I am not feeling positive about a test that costs millions to teach to, administer, assess and analyze, when I’m being told that I have to help pay for the current budget crisis. If every teacher (who had the child-care/financial wherewithal) with a child in Grade 3 or 6 chose to pull their child out….hmmmm.

  2. Alan Kwan says:

    I came from the one of the worse systems myself: Hong Kong, a la British standardized system implemented in Asia. But as much as it is easy to dramatize the bad and the ugly, I’m forced to look around. 30+ years later in IT, the fastest changing field that requires smart learner, those that pass the test (whatever flavor certificate it is this month) will have a better chance in getting the work done than those who don’t. Trust me, I’ve tried. Creativity doesn’t solve all problems, neither do all the other qualitative attributes.

    But that is really the point, isn’t it? There is no one thing that measures our children. It has to be an aggregation of qualitative and quantitative measures to paint the right pictures for each child. Agreed that using standardize testing alone will only lead to the wrong conclusion. But also agreed that not using it as part of a system missed the point too.

  3. I applaud the decision simply because it will serve to elevate the conversation around ‘too much testing’ and using test results in ways they were not intended to be used. As a nj superintendent (and parent of a 7 and 3 year old) I am very interested in this conversation. As a professional, our district and others continue to have their budgets reduced and or flat funded; while we are asked to add technology in order to meet the new assessment requirements. Instead of having our state spend money on testing and testing related services (pearson is doing just fine), why don’t we put a moratorium on high stakes assessment and use the money to fund innovation?

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  1. [...] it is not about cheerleading — it tackles real issues.  The first story I read was about parents deciding to opt out of standardized tests.  While state testing was described as part of the American model of teacher evaluation, [...]

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