Opting Out of Everything

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking at Organize 2.0’s annual conference, a gathering of some of the country’s most influential organizers to speak about thought leadership as a classroom teacher. I had far too much to say over a 20 minute period, so I read a portion of my book and spoke about our current education reform issues. I got plenty of applause for hounding Andrew Cuomo and speaking up about racism, sexism, and homophobia in our communities. I also had an opportunity to shout out a group like Change the Stakes because a) they’re in NYC b) they have materials in Spanish and c) they’re in my neighborhood. Needless to say, I believe in parents opting their students out of the standardized tests, especially if they can meet the requirements for grade advancement. (Actually, even if they can’t, but that’s another post.)


During the Q&A period, a concerned parent asked, “But what if my kid needs to use those test scores in order to get into a better school?” These are the types of questions meant to stymie speakers, as if I hadn’t seen it already. People who asks these questions presume that the speaker isn’t a parent themselves, and that there isn’t a negotiation between “parent as expert” and “for the public good” that society has to find ways to balance all the time. I replied that we first need to define what a bad school and a good school are. Secondly, that there are multiple ways to demonstrate that a student has learned something, and I can’t see too many principals who would reject a student who has a strong portfolio of work.

Eventually, I find out from other attendees that the “parent” also works somewhere that should work at the behest of teachers, students, and parents, but that’s another matter completely. This idea that the standardized test is the ultimate way to ensure passage to the next level sounds like pseudo-meritocratic drivel.

After leaving the conference, my blood only boiled hotter after hearing a commercial in Spanish telling Latino parents that the upcoming state tests are designed to improve students’ cognitive skills, so they should be encouraged to take them. Excuse me? Whoever paid for that spot (my bet: StudentsFirst) forgot to mention that tests don’t explicitly teach anything. Teachers do. Tests don’t go up or down magically or because of raised standards, but because of what happens on a daily basis in schools.

I wanted to listen to the whole commercial, but, instead I hurried up, paid for my groceries, and got the hell out. You guessed it: I opted out.

In fact, I wish I had a refusal letter handy for a bunch of different things I need to opt out of. In no particular order, I’d like to opt out of giving the exams, of being rated on standardized tests, of arguments that say “students need these tests to learn”, of educators not openly supporting other educators when they decide to do something about the testing regime we’re still beholden to, of contentions that these tests are similar to the SAT / ACT when colleges are paying less attention to those things, of folks on all sides silencing voices of color opting their students out by saying opting out is a mostly white suburban moms issue, of giving America’s public monies to private testing corporations for the express purpose of perpetuating testing, and of any mandates that shutter schools on the sole basis of achievement on these tests.

I’d like to opt in to more resources and redistribution of said resources so that the more students need, the more we give. I’d also like to opt our kids in to demonstrating their learning through multiple factors. I’d opt into professional development that would make me a better facilitator for students showing their own learning, too. It’s the right thing to do.

The largest question about the opt out movement for folks is color is whether these tests help highlight our educational inequities via numbers. Opting out students stands as a powerful rebuke of the idea that standardized tests should be the primary determinant as to whether a school stays open or not. So if opting out is an option for you, please do.