April 27 2015 06:58 PM

More than triple the number of kids opted out of federal exams


I prepped my fourth-grader this past Sunday for her return to school following a month of unencumbered childhood, more widely known as spring break. The girl's on a year-round schedule—the kind that research has shown reduces summer slide and is better for children in lower-socioeconomic classes. In other words, it makes sense so San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is going to move all schools to a traditional calendar, natch. Go forth, Calendar Committee, and be awesome!

On my mind—as my little crackerjack resumes afternoons filled not with learning, curiosity and inspiration, but with practice tests like the ones she'll not be taking for real at the end of May—is news from around the country that makes me nearly levitate with glee.

In New York, an estimated 184,000 students opted out of their federally mandated English exams two weeks ago, compared to 49,000 who sat on their hands last spring. (Math test opt-out numbers are not yet known.) The agitators are a small fraction of the 1.1 million eligible test takers, but their ranks more than tripled in a single year. That is noteworthy.

Rocky Killion, the Indiana 2015 School Superintendent of the Year, has urged parents to homeschool their children during the week of testing. Sends chills up my spine, I tell you. 

And at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, high-stakes test resistance escalated when teachers, administrators, parents and students voted unanimously against the standardized assessments. The result? Not a single 11th grader showed up for the tests. Not one. That is the same difference as all of them minus all of them. Put another way, 100 percent of the enrolled juniors engaged in civil disobedience. 

I feel like there is a potential test question in there somewhere. 

Maybe these kids spent their free time planning elaborate promposals, a rite of passage CityBeat's new editor thinks is stupid. To which I say, of course it's stupid! The frontal lobe of a human isn't fully developed until he's in his mid-20s. I remember my bedroom being toilet papered beyond recognition when I was asked to prom, and that was totally stupid. But the promposal is a fun, innocent stupid. One might say it's a necessary, stress-relieving, see-how-creative-you-can-be stupid. Unlike standardized testing, which is a prolonged, abusive, unhealthy, not-meaningful-but-pretending-to-be stupid. And people are waking up to this fact.

Opting out is in. It's a movement being further validated by the growing numbers of balking admins. Even as SDUSD is wrong on the calendar issue, it was right to press Congress to eliminate the testing mandate in No Child Left Behind. And in early April, school Superintendent Cindy Marten penned a letter to parents and it went a little like this: Look, I think this blows, but my hands are tied. Just remember that your child is more than a sucky test score.

Marten's missive read like a nod's-as-good-as-a-wink-to-a-blind-bat notice of the coming shit storm. Really interesting, though, was the inclusion of a single sentence about opting out. It was no Rocky Killion bravery; it wasn't like she explicitly stated that Californians can legally opt out (we can), or provided links to helpful websites (there are several), or directly pointed to opt-out forms (templates are available). But that lone sentence was remarkable. Nudge, nudge.

As someone who has opted her child out of tests, it's an understatement to say all this news has made me happy. But if my heart has soared, the reaction from the Imperial Wizard of Standardized Testing has provided an unequalled sky-rockets-in-flight euphoria.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is apoplectic that growing swaths of people are outwardly rebuking his horrible ed policy. And like a high school jock with an underdeveloped brain, he's going to compensate by flexing his muscle. According to the website ChalkBeat, BaDunc-a-Dunc is threatening to call in the feds

Now, I'm not sure what this means, exactly, but I find it tauntingly hilarious, even as I'm forced to confront the reality that I'm one Ford F-650 with a "Don't tread on me!" bumper sticker and a set of Truck Nutz™ away from marching with the Libertarian crowd. (Their racist leanings will prevent me from becoming a card-carrying member.)

Duncan is talking "sanctions," and may "withhold funding" from states which, note to Department of Ed, you've already been doing that. What else Angry Arne has in mind we do not know—maybe he'll arrange to throw more teachers in jail seeing as how they seem to be the real criminals among us. Perhaps he'll start disappearing administrators. Maybe Duncan will make like Texas and throw the test-skipping truants behind bars. Maybe he'll cuff us parents, too. That would really put a feather in the cap of the American education system. 

Or maybe the feds will come to our houses, put guns to all of our heads and march us into the testing rooms. To quote George W. Bush (Jesus Christ, am I really gonna do it?): Bring 'em on.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.