In “Opt Out: An Examination of Issues,” a peer-reviewed paper that is part of ETS’s Research Report Series, Randy E. Bennett analyzes “early press accounts” that ascribed test refusals to a “viral grass-roots effort led by parents who object to state-mandated testing” and concludes that “the reality is more complicated.” Here are a few highlights, but I recommend a full reading.
On the demographics of the parents who opt-out their children from state standardized tests:
- With respect to districts, on New York’s Long Island and in some upstate districts, most eligible students did not participate. In the Chateaugay, Rocky Point, and Onteora Central school districts, the refusal rates were 90%, 80%, and 66%, respectively (Harris & Fessenden, 2015). However, in the state’s largest district, the New York City schools, a refusal rate of just 1.4% was reported (Harris, 2015a), quite consistent with the 1% average observed in the nation’s 66 largest urban school systems (Council of the Great City Schools [CGCS], 2015).
- Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation. In New York, opt outs were more likely to be White and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year’s state examinations. Those students were less likely to be economically disadvantaged, to come from districts serving relatively large numbers of poor students, and to be an English language learner. Similar associations for race and SES occurred in Colorado and Washington. These demographic associations are consistent with attitudes toward testing, which polls suggest is perceived less favorably by Whites and higher-income cohorts than by members of minority and lower-SES groups. These differences in perception and action have led to opt out becoming a civil-rights issue since it has the potential to distort state test results, complicating the identification of schools and districts that are failing to educate traditionally underserved students effectively.
- In sum, the sources cited above suggest that significant levels of nonparticipation were restricted in 2015 to a minority of states and, except for New York, Colorado, and Rhode Island, to relatively small subsets of their eligible test-taking populations.
On parent views of standardized testing, including differences among white and parents of color:
- In a 2015 poll “only 25% of members of the public supported allowing parents to decide whether their children are tested, while 59% were against parental choice. Among parents specifically, 32% favored opt out, with 52% opposed. Finally, most teachers dismissed opt out (57%); only 32% gave it their support.”
- Results from the PDK and Gallup (2015) national survey suggest that demographic differences in views toward opt out go beyond Washington, Colorado, and New York. In that poll, 44% of Whites supported allowing parents to excuse their students from testing and 41% were opposed to such exclusion. In stark contrast, only 28% of Blacks supported opt out and 57% were against it. The comparable figures for Hispanics were 35% supporting and 45% opposing. When asked if they would exclude their own child, the majority in each group would not, but the differences among groups were clearly evident: 21% of Blacks, 28% of Hispanics, and 34% Whites would exclude their own children from testing, whereas 75%, 65%, and 54%, respectively, would not opt them out.
- Given the clear differences in attitudes about, participation in, and supposed benefit from state testing among racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, it should not be surprising that opt out has become a civil rights issue.
How much time do we spend testing students?
- As the research appears to indicate, the total time devoted to state and district assessments does not appear to be especially excessive on average, either in percentage terms or in hours.
What’s the bottom line?
- In combination, these results suggest that the public may have more favorable views toward testing than either the existence of the opt-out movement or the extensive media coverage given it would imply.