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Opting Out

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dinks

Good news out of Minnesota, where the number of high school juniors opting out of the bogus standardized testing that has significantly hurt American education has jumped significantly.

In 2016, 2,227 high school juniors opted out of the MCA tests statewide. That’s just a drop in the bucket, compared to the 55,975 students who did take it. But it is more than three times the number of eleventh grade students–694–who opted out of the MCAs in 2015.

This is a startling jump, taking place in schools and cities as diverse as suburban St. Louis Park, rural Pine City and Minneapolis. (The examples below pertain only to the Math MCA tests for high school juniors.)

In 2016, ten Pine City juniors refused the MCA tests, while 102 students took the test; that’s a small but significant bump up from the three students who refused the tests in 2015. At St. Louis Park High School in 2016, 87 juniors sat for the MCA tests while 66 students opted out. But in 2015, just one student refused the MCAs.

An eye-popping 209 juniors at Minneapolis’s Henry High School opted out of the math MCAs in 2016. That’s a huge leap from 2015, when just eleven students refused the tests. Only seven percent of Henry’s 1,100 students identify as white and eighty-percent live in poverty, according to federal standards. This might help poke holes in the story that only “suburban moms” and white, wealthier kids are pushing the opt out movement. And, across town at Roosevelt High School, 66 juniors took the math MCAs in 2016 while 98 opted not to. Like Henry, Roosevelt is not a majority white school and almost seventy percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Over at South High School–Minneapolis’s largest and most diverse–so few students took the MCAs in 2016 that there are simply blank spaces on the Department of Education’s spreadsheet for the school. That’s because, when fewer than ten students take the tests, the data has to be blocked out for privacy reasons. In 2015, 306 students–or nearly ninety percent of eligible juniors–at South did not take the tests.

Let’s hope this movement for quality education instead of test prep continues and grows. Taking back our schools means actually learning and helping students’ minds and curiosity grow instead of sitting for bogus exams.

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  • Marek

    Harrumph.

  • Denverite

    Since this is a Loomis education post…

    Question: My eldest got her school assignment for next year. It’s a STEM-focused charter school, BUT it’s also run by DPS in the middle of the city, and it’s like 45% non-white.

    Where does this put me on the racist scale? I’m guessing somewhere between George Wallace and George Bush, but I wanted to check.

    • busker type

      You sound like you need a safe space

      • Denverite

        Come on. Loomis gets to troll us but we can’t play along?

        • busker type

          Troll away, just know that you sound like a thin-skinned dickhead

          • Denverite

            Hmmmm. Not my intent. I was actually trying to be funny. I think Loomis’s “white people who move to the suburbs to send their kids to good schools are racists” shtick and the concomitant shitstorm it generates on here is pretty hilarious. I just through in the STEM bit to especially try to get his goat (I probably should have thrown in ketchup and vodka references as well).

            • nixnutz

              Taking advantage of and acting to perpetuate systemic racism doesn’t necessarily make one a racist but I’d say it causes a lot more harm to communities of color than flying a confederate flag and posting ignorant shit on Facebook does. Obviously it’s a complicated issue but people who just dismiss the notion that benefitting from a unjust system makes you complicit in it are at least as problematic as racists.

              And I know, you’re just “trolling” but I don’t think “ha, ha, minorities get inferior public education” is as hilarious a joke as you do. That fact that the school you’re talking about is nearly three times as white as the system as a whole doesn’t help either.

              • Denverite

                To be clear, I think the reception that Loomis gets when he puts up posts saying that white people are racists for moving to the suburbs to send their kids to better schools is hilarious, not that the fact that a lot of white people feel like they need to move to the suburbs to send their kids to good schools is hilarious.

                Also, just FYI, but my kids have gone to big city public schools exclusively, including public schools where white kids made up about 25% of the student body.

              • Linnaeus

                people who just dismiss the notion that benefitting from a unjust system makes you complicit in it are at least as problematic as racists.

                True, but it’s too easy for too many people to point the finger at someone else.

              • NewishLawyer

                The problem here is that Loomis often does not provide any solutions, he just provides Jeremiads and brimstone and fire damnation.

                Gentrification is evil because it forces poor people and minorities out their communities.

                Moving to the suburbs with good schools is evil because it drains resources.

                Sending your kids to private schools and/or charter schools is evil. Etc.

                Whether we like it or not, middle class and upper-middle class white or whitish people are not going to disappear or the face of the earth tomorrow and as far as I can tell the revolution is not coming. Also I’m a middle-class whitish person and like existing.

                Loomis does not have kids as far as I can tell and maybe he doesn’t want kids. That is cool. But a big issue I see in a lot of contemporary liberalism especially the on-line writing side is that we are willing to call everything problems and wrong and immoral instead of coming up solutions or things people can do that are within the realm of reason. This has gotta hurt voting and turnout at some point because you can’t attract voters with a basic message of “Your entire existence is wrong” and by making all actions wrong/problematic, you are basically doing that.

                Loomis had a post two days ago criticizing socialists for not getting involved with practical politics but his education and some other posts also show a large amount of adamant belief that doesn’t want to bend to political compromise or reality.

                You can’t have it both ways but both ways is the only way so many people want it.

                • Denverite

                  Whether we like it or not, middle class and upper-middle class white or whitish people are not going to disappear or the face of the earth tomorrow and as far as I can tell the revolution is not coming. Also I’m a middle-class whitish person and like existing.

                  (Also, my kid is not going to go to a charter school because the non-charter school she’d otherwise go to is “bad.” It’s actually pretty good, and we’d be happy for her to go there. She’s going to the charter school because she likes math and science and it’s the best math and science school [and arguably the best middle school, period] in the state.)

              • brewmn

                I would ask you, as I’ve asked Loomis, is there any school choices a parent could make that would not “perpetuate systemic racism” short of moving into the district with the highest percentages of poor and/or minority students?

            • busker type

              Fair enough, I can see that

          • Schadenboner

            I’m pretty sure you probably wouldn’t want thick skin on your dickhead (or on the head of whichever dick you most routinely interact with).

        • I don’t troll readers.

          Well, except about food.

          • Ithaqua

            I’m a little behind on my LGM-ing, and am going to have to catsup on some of these threads…

          • Gregor Sansa

            “Troll” has as many shades of meaning as “racist” or “corrupt”. There’s the overt kind, but also the more subtle, structural kind. Loomis, you are only overt with the food stuff, but your average is not that much further down the scale.

            • Gregor Sansa

              Bring back edit buttons!

          • brewmn

            Bless your heart.

          • ice9

            Erik, something odd about the numbers in your source story. See my comment at the end of the chain.

            ice9

    • Michael Cain

      It doesn’t apply to all cases, but over the course of 40 or so working years, (a) first work location was well out in the ‘burbs because it incorporated a microwave test range; (b) then well out in the ‘burbs because it incorporated the toxic chemicals associated with integrated circuit research; (c) well out away from the core of the metro area in order to be in the state’s flagship university’s research park; (d) close to the particular industry’s standards setting laboratory, located in the ‘burbs because of the satellite dish farm necessary; and (e) downtown, but my kids were grown and gone.

      Edge cities are a thing, and have been for decades. Perhaps some of the jobs wouldn’t have moved if we hadn’t subsidized particular transportation models. OTOH, a considerable number of jobs were ill-suited to the urban core, but high enough up the food chain that those workers weren’t going to accept overly long commutes.

  • busker type

    As a short run practical matter, do these schools suffer repercussions when their students opt out?

    • Not to my knowledge. Students have the right to opt-out.

      • Peterr

        They just have to stand by and watch $19.2 million be spent each year on something of very limited utility, while other educational priorities go underfunded if not completely unfunded.

        This may not be the kind of repercussion you had in mind, but from the teachers of my acquaintance in MO and KS, this is a very very regular source of pain in their lives.

        ($19.2M comes from the link in the post)

    • jmack

      In Ohio, students who opt out of testing don’t receive a diploma, but rather a certificate of attendance. The other option is to jump through multiple hoops to prove to the state that they have a viable educational plan that merits a diploma. This could mean passing the ACT or passing a job skills assessment. It also results in a ‘0’ for the test that counts against the school’s report card, the teachers’ evaluations (it varies contract to contract), and the district’s graduation numbers.

    • Marek

      In Massachusetts, the prestigious Boston Latin school was downgraded by the state department of education because some students opted out of a PARCC exam. Which goes to show how ridiculous the state ratings are, among other things.

    • XerMom

      I wonder about the unofficial repercussions. Are the students who opt out reflective of the overall student body? My concern is that the students opting out are coming from disproportionately privileged households (the kind of households that know the ins and outs of school policy and think nothing of butting heads with the district or principal). Those are the kinds of kids who would likely pull up a school’s overall score.

      I don’t like the focus on test scores any more than the next person, but I also see the moms in facebook groups scrutinizing the aggregate test scores for a school and deciding that a school is “good” or “bad” based on those scores. Of course, those scores really don’t tell you much, and they certainly don’t tell you how your particular child will do, but it’s a huge deciding factor for a lot of parents. The lower the scores, the less likely middle-class families stay in the public schools.

      My kids are likely to do fairly well on standardized tests, so it’s a no-brainer to have my kids take them. As long as test scores are used as an excuse for parents to send their kids to all-white charters and private schools, I’m going to try to keep the scores in the district higher.

  • aintthatpretty

    I teach third grade in Berkeley and I’m always disturbed that none of my parents opt out of the state testing. It’s the first year of testing and brutal on the kids. The district pressures teachers not to inform parents that they have the right to opt out. You can’t advocate for opting out, but we are certainly allowed to inform parents. The testing is such a disservice to our students.

  • Ithaqua

    I wonder if standardized testing could be fixed by making the base of test questions really, really large, then randomly assigning them to each student. Since each student would be getting different questions, you’d really have to teach to a topic rather than to a test. (How could you teach to a calculus test if the test had 2,000 questions?) Because there would be many students answering each question, the student scores could be normalized on a question-by-question basis, and the normalized scores aggregated, thus greatly reducing the impact of the fact that the students are seeing different tests. More work for the test providers, sure, but it doesn’t seem infeasible. Thoughts?

    • Gregor Sansa

      Um… that’s not really a new idea.

      You most definitely can “teach to the test” even if the test is a random selection from some huge number of potential questions. No matter how many questions there are, they will be biased towards declarative knowledge over higher-level skills like flexibility, healthy understanding of certainty and doubt, argumentation, research, formulating hypotheses, etc.

      • busker type

        Yeah… maybe you can’t teach to “the test”, but you can teach “how to take a test” which is equally a waste of time.

        • liberalrob

          And the ultimate result of all this focus on testing, testing, testing. We get citizens that are good at taking tests, hurray!

  • ice9

    Something fishy about those opt-out numbers. They seem to be using incorrect totals to compute an opt-out percentage. Ironically, it was MCA’s and other required standardized tests that used to be used in the other direction.
    St. Louis Park has about 1450 students–that’s 370 or so per class. All students in MN are expected to take the MCA. But the opt-out story lists 66 opt-outs and 87 opt-ins. 153 total–where’s the rest of the junior class?

    Pine City lists an enrollment of about 800 but the source suggests there are only 112 juniors.
    I can’t speak to the Minneapolis schools, but there’s something fishy there too–the general notion that nearly all of the students in a class didn’t take the MCA. This test is not optional, though from the source I assumed there was some kind of opt-out.

    Did the source confuse the ACT with the MCA? The legislature here has mandated an in-school ACT recently, but that can be opted out. If they have, that impeaches that source fairly permanently if you ask me. Same standard I’d apply to Trump, in this case: you’re either a lying sack of shit or deeply stupid; either way, I ain’t coming back.

    Or I could be wrong. I’ve only been teaching high school here for 30 years.

    NCLB did one good thing–it ended, or made much more difficult–the process of excluding certain subsets of students from standardized testing, and thereby inflating the performance. Love or hate them, standardized tests like the MCA provide a benchmark for performance improvements over time, and have smoked out the practice of allowing disfavored groups to continue to fail by hiding them. Would be pretty funny if anti-testing groups were found to be doing the same thing.

    ice

  • EvanHarper

    Someone help me out here. I can’t tell whether it’s actually gospel among the LGM community that bogus standardized tests are destroying our children’s education or Loomis is just doing his usual thing where he substitutes rhetorical certainty for evidence.

    • busker type

      I think there is broad, if not necessarily universal, agreement on the left that focusing on standardized tests to evaluate schools and teachers creates an incentive to teach to the test, often to the detriment of students’ education.

      • liberalrob

        And they’re used to close “poor-performing” public schools and force children into (non-unionized) charter schools. Well, the ones who do well on the tests anyway. The rest can just lump it.

        • EvanHarper

          Even if you think that test results should never ever factor in to the decision to close a school, it’s going above and beyond to say test results shouldn’t even be collected.

      • EvanHarper

        You have to be pretty aggressive with how far away from the center you define “the left” to sustain this. NCLB was bipartisan; Obama liked charter schools; ESSA passed without a single Democratic vote against. There is plenty of controversy over the implementation of standardized tests and the design of incentive systems based on them, but the idea that “bogus exams” are a universal evil seems awfully cranky. Both in terms of how much political support it actually has, and how objectively plausible it is.

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