Opting out is in. Over the past two years, the movement to boycott standardized tests across New York State has mushroomed from a fringe rebellion to a mass mobilization against what many see as an anxiety-provoking, creativity-stifling, and hypercommercialized testing regime. With record numbers of opt-outs last year, however, activists are now testing the patience of education officials. State education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has signaled stiff disapproval and dropped hints last month that the movement may suffer consequences for bucking the system.
More than 200,000 students were no-shows for at least one of the state’s English and math exams this year, according to a New York Times analysis of official data—a statewide figure that “quadrupled from the year before, and represented 20 percent of all those eligible to be tested.”
Driving the movement is a national network of teachers and families providing encouragement, along with form letters and legal guidance on how parents and kids can exercise their right to reject the test. But recently Elia stated that school districts might be sanctioned somehow if a large portion of students boycotted the tests. According to Politico New York, Elia suggested she would be consulting with superintendents about the impact of high opt-out rates, and “it’s also possible that federal Title I funds will be withheld.”
Although the standardized tests at issue, for English and math skills in grades three through eight, are essentially voluntary, administrators are required to offer them. Moreover, some federal funds are in theory contingent on achieving near-total participation rates.
Yet as opt-out campaigns have emerged in communities around the country, parents seem increasingly confident in their right to noncompliance. Officials and education authorities have largely refrained from intervening. Some, such as Delaware and Colorado, have even developed policies either promoting reduced use of tests or clarifying parents’ right to reject them.