Reflecting on priorities of family & work

Opting My Kids Out of Standardized Testing – A Clash of Work and Family

I’m just going to put it out there from the start – we’ve opted out our 3rd grade kids from standardized testing at their public school. ‘Tis the season in our public schools as instruction halts for test prep and testing. Schools send letters and emails home asking that we as parents ensure our students get a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast for each day of testing – and don’t be absent. The message  – “testing is more important than learning.” Sorry for the mini-rant. A few things on this I want to put out there up front so as this message does not get co-opted:

  1. I am a huge supporter of Common Core State Standards, as these standards are higher, clearer, and more relevant to the skills and knowledge I want my kids to learn in order to be prepared for college and career. Opting my kids out of testing is not a criticism of the standards – it is for many other parents.scantron
  2. I do not believe standardized testing is inherently bad. There are numerous benefits to society from standardized testing. The new SmarterBalanced and PARCC Assessments are light-years ahead of the bubble tests we used to assess our schools with. Opting my kids out of testing is not a wholesale criticism of standardized testing.
  3. I am not trying to spark or fan the flames of a movement. This is about our kids and their education and what we feel as informed parents is right for our kids.

It’s also about a conflict between work and family. An earlier blog post focused on the complimentary nature of things I’ve learned as a father that help me at work “and vice versa”. This current blog focuses on a conflict (standardized testing) I have between a value at work and what I value with my own kids. It boils down to a macro issue (society) vs. a micro issue (my kids). Let me explain.

At educational nonprofits (my work), success in gaining more clients and more philanthropic funding lies largely on ones ability to prove, through rigorous research, that products and services produce positive results in student achievement – and do so at scale. Student growth on standardized test scores has been a bellwether for proof of programmatic effectiveness. In our arena, such proof is the gold standard. This is an entirely appropriate use of standardized tests – the data is used to evaluate programmatic effectiveness over multiple states, districts, schools, and grade-levels for large numbers of students and teachers. And, our programs and services are not designed specifically to show success on these specific assessments – they are designed to show success on any student assessment. This is a macro use and on the macro level, statewide, standardized assessments are valuable for this cause and for other large, systemic purposes.

But this is about my kids (the micro). I do not want my kids’ school year reduced down to a single-point assessment over the course of a random week in Spring – particularly at 9 years-old. What if they have a bad day? How accurate is that single-point test then? I much prefer the hours and days spent prepping for and then taking the statewide assessments to focus on teaching and learning; opting my kids out of the testing will provide them with some of these hours and days back into their education as they will be provided with appropriate learning opportunities while their classmates are testing. There are much better, less time-consuming means to assess individual student progress and to do so over time.

I also know that my kids would stress about the testing. They stressed about it last year when they weren’t even testing, talking to my wife and me about how important the test must be because all of the adults at the school told them it was. They asked if they would have to take the test next year and worried about what it was all about and what they would have to know. My daughter would stress trying to get everything right; my son would stress trying to get everything done on time (even though it is largely un-timed). Testing stress is not necessarily harmful and I do want my kids to get accustomed to it – just not at 9 years-old and not for a test that does not matter to them (unlike college-entrance exams, for instance).

I’ve heard the argument from other parents. How will you know how your kids are doing in comparison to others? First of all, I don’t care how my kids are doing against other kids (and besides, the new tests don’t measure this anymore anyway – they measure students against a set of standards and not against each other: see criterion referenced v. norm referenced). I care how they are doing on their own path; to that end, I trust my knowledge and the knowledge of my kids’ teachers on what my kids should know and be able to do in order to assess how my kids are progressing in school. I’ve read and re-read the Common Core State Standards and all of the accompanying documents. Standardized tests could be used as one measure of assessing progress, but far too often defaults as the only measure.

Peter Drucker, renowned einsteinmanagement guru, is most often credited with the quote – “What gets measured, gets managed” and we’ve taken that to an extreme in education. I much prefer a quote oft attributed to Albert Einstein – “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” For our family, the real value of schooling is on what is not counted – being an engaged part of a community, socially constructing knowledge, politeness and kindness, creativity, joyfulness, passion, persistence, and on and on and on.

And so in lies the conflict between work and family. If all parents opted their kids out of standardized testing we may never fully understand large educational trends – like those I tackle at work. In this case, as in most – life is prioritized over work.

What are your thoughts?

5 comments on “Opting My Kids Out of Standardized Testing – A Clash of Work and Family

  1. Mike Turner
    March 17, 2015

    I had, literally, the exact same conversation with multiple people over the last couple of days. I work in a high-poverty school but my own kids attend a suburban school near our house in Denver. I spend my days raising funds, planning our growth, and talking about how great our scholars are doing using metrics from state tests and other assessments that are easily given and understood.

    I mentioned to one of the teachers I work with how I’m planning on opting my oldest out of the state testing next near. She was quite bothered and felt like it would be a personal affront to my kid’s teacher. Its a very nuanced argument and one that most people in, and out of, education don’t really understand. I don’t care how my kids compare to other kids or the numbers across the nation. I care that they are learning, enjoying school, and making adequate progress.

    Thanks for articulating this so clearly.


    • DadWorking
      March 17, 2015

      Mike – thanks for reading and commenting. I wasn’t a principal or teacher when my kids were school-age, but I know there are things I would have done differently. if they were. I actually think relaying on standardized testing says we don’t respect our teachers. A 10 minute conversation with our child’s teachers should be able to tell us more about our child than any test could.


  2. Andrew
    March 17, 2015

    Ugh. Now this is going to eat at me. I blame you for any upcoming sleepless nights, Rob.


    • DadWorking
      March 17, 2015

      I doubt testing will do any irreparable damage. You’ve never scene a Jerry Springer where the pregnant teen exclaimed – “And then my parents made me take a standardized test!” This is what I know is right for my kids. As an author, I encourage you to read the literacy standards. I think you’ll appreciate them.


  3. Andrew
    March 17, 2015

    I will take under advisement after I poke my head out form under the covers again.


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This entry was posted on March 17, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
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