More parents choosing to opt out of testing

Nine-year-olds Jordan Thomas, left, and Jade Jaques hold up their handmade sign during a 2013 rally in Albany, N.Y., against standardized testing. More parents across the country are keeping their children from taking the tests. Associated Press file photo

Mika Newey of Hobbs has had her children “opt out” of public school testing since last year. Cynthia Allen of Santa Fe has done the same thing. The two moms are among a growing number of parents nationwide who are trying to decrease stress for their kids by having them take fewer tests.

Kris Nielsen, parent, educator and founder of NM-Refuse The Test (www.nmoptout.org) said advocates are working to gain more parental support for this movement. Parents who want to participate locally can download a test refusal form from his website and give it to their child’s teacher or principal.

But Nielsen does not recommend that students refuse to take tests at the high school level, because it could impact their graduation requirements and prevent them from earning a diploma, he said.

Monty Neill, executive director of Boston-based FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy group working to ensure that assessment of students is both fair and educationally sound, said during a phone interview that most “opt-out” movements are centered on children in the K-8 grades. He said that’s not an issue when it comes to college admission requirements: “No one thinks that grade-school testing impacts your college admission prospects.”

Dianne Anderson, director of communication for The University of New Mexico, echoed that thought and went a step further, noting that the college “focuses primarily on the grade-point average and the ACT and SAT scores. … Opting out of standard testing in high school doesn’t affect admission to UNM in any way.”

While some states give parents explicit permission to sign their children out of tests — California, for instance — others have equally clear mandates that do not allow students to skip testing, Neill said. Most have no specific guidelines at all, he said.

New Mexico’s law on the issue is unclear — a point both sides concede. “There is no legal statute about it,” Nielsen said. “The only law in place is that schools have to administer tests, but it does not say that parents can or cannot opt out.”

Leighann Lenti, deputy secretary for policy and programs at the state Public Education Department, said New Mexico statutes make it clear which schools and grade levels must participate in Standards Based Assessments. “The law does not go on to state, ‘Here is how you opt out,’ ” she said. “But on the flip side, it doesn’t say, ‘If you don’t participate, this is what will happen to you.’ ”

She pointed out that the state’s guidelines for the A-F school grading system include a minimum testing participation threshold of 95 percent — and failure to meet that rate can impact a school’s grade. For instance, three of Santa Fe’s schools — E.J. Martinez Elementary School, Capital High School and Santa Fe High School — received D’s this year, primarily because they had testing participation levels of 92.4 percent to 94.6 percent. Statewide, Lenti said, 10 schools did not meet the participation threshold.

Neill said some school districts are putting pressure on parents to stop them from opting out, but neither Newey nor Allen received any pushback from their children’s educators or districts. Both said some teachers supported their actions.

Newey, a teacher, though not with Santa Fe Public Schools, said she gathered children at her home who were not taking tests for some home-schooling on testing days.

Allen said her child read a book in class during testing. “He’s not being taught during this time, which is unfortunate, but I much prefer he read a book than be stressed out by a test,” she said.

Neither woman is against in-class quizzes and tests to assess how students are progressing.

A number of recent national surveys and reports note that students spend somewhere between 15 and 20 hours testing per year, though students at some schools have spent up to 50 hours taking tests. A recent report from Santa Fe Public Schools indicates Santa Fe students take between six and 15.5 hours of standardized tests every year, adding up to no more than 1.8 percent of instructional time over the course of that year.

Nielsen, Allen and Newey say parents considering this route should let their teachers and principals know early in the year.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.