Eric Mihelbergel, a parent of two elementary students in upstate New York, thinks his children are being used as tools to evaluate teachers.
And he doesn’t like it.
“My kids spend about 25 percent of the academic school year focusing strictly on taking tests and practicing for taking tests,” Mihelbergel told TakePart. “These tests are not used for my child at all. They are strictly used to evaluate the teacher, the school, and the school district. This is not acceptable to me. My child goes to school for an education, not as a tool for someone else’s purpose.”
Mihelbergel is part of a growing movement of parents who’ve had enough with standardized tests in public schools. Parents, teachers, and academics want more creative teaching that uses arts, science, and history instead of “teaching to the test.”
This week in New York, parents, teachers, and students participated in the largest protest thus far. Students decidedly opted not to take tests administered by the state of New York. Some parents were told that boycotting the tests was against the law, but their children did so anyway.
Mihelbergel says his fifth-grade daughter did not take the tests and faced no problems. In fact, the principal was very cooperative. She didn’t attend school the morning of the tests and refused to take the makeup test. His other daughter, who is in second grade, takes a different set of tests in May and will also refuse to take them.
An overabundance of testing has, according to critics, contributed to a rise in cheating by teachers and administrators, a segregation of students based on test scores, high teacher turnover, and the decrease of classes that teach enrichment such as the arts.
Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, has followed this movement for the last few years. He says that it began about two years ago by parents and education professors in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Maryland, and Florida who called the movement “United Opt Out.”
“The organization began to grow rapidly not only because testing was being increased, but because the tests, as a matter of policy, were being used to rate teachers and schools, thereby leading to consequences ranging from cheating to the transformation of instruction to test prep,” Naison told TakePart.
Diana Zavala’s son is in fourth grade in New York. She says she got involved in the movement after she saw a startling change in her son’s attitude.
“He was a child who loved school, who was curious and eager to learn and experiment and I noticed he was coming home worn down, stressed and unmotivated,” she said. “I also noticed he was interacting with his sister in a multiple-choice style of way offering her choices with letters attached to the questions. He talked about reading levels and not loving books. He talked about being a number three or four and cared about competing with his classmates rather than collaborating with them in a group activity.”
Zavala is now a member of Change The Stakes and The Movement Of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), both are strive to move the system away from testing and more to educating. When she first got involved, parents saw what she was doing as “an anomaly, a reaction to my son’s emotions.”
“They thought that there could be potential harm in doing what I was doing: pulling out of testing,” she said. “I think parents no longer feel this way.”
Mihelbergel and Zavala want educational change—now. And they aren’t alone. Naison says this movement is quickly spreading across the country.
“In a few years, it [the movement] will be so strong it will get elected officials to reconsider whether testing on the scale it is done now, is the way to improve our public schools,” Naison said. “I suspect that by the next presidential election in 2016, candidates will be competing to propose ways to reduce the amount of testing in schools—all because of this movement.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com