Opting out is just one option for tests

Nearly a month ago, we wrote here that a group of Saranac Lake Central School parents had legitimate concerns over the way standardized testing is being handled these days. We said they were right to pressure local, state and national elected officials to fix the situation. We still stand by every word of that editorial.

Since that time, some of these parents have started a movement of refusing to let their kids take this year’s tests, which start Tuesday. At least 25 students in grades three to eight will boycott the state English and math tests, according to Zoe Smith, who recently helped found the Saranac Lake Parent Faculty Education Alliance.

“I feel like it’s sort of sucking the love of learning out of my kids,” Ms. Smith told the Enterprise Thursday. “I see that with their teachers, too. A lot of teachers are losing, sort of, that love of teaching. I think it’s creating this sour environment in our classrooms.”

We empathize, and many of these parents are our friends, but we can’t recommend that form of civil disobedience. We wrote a long list of reasons why, but on second thought, we’ll keep those mostly to ourselves. We don’t want to scrutinize other people’s parenting choices here. We’ll simply summarize with this: It seems like it sends a mixed message politically and could lead to problems within the school community.

But we can’t predict the future. If you feel strongly enough to do this, we won’t hold anything against you.

Again, the problems are real:

-The exams are too long and too many: nine hours’ worth per child in six days spread over two weeks. Standardized tests need last no longer than part of one day, as many adults remember from their childhoods.

-The new national Common Core curriculum is being implemented all at once instead of a sensible three-year phase-in.

-The tests contain “field questions” that are beyond the students’ curriculum level, which can be a stressful distraction on a timed exam.

-Kids and parents don’t get to see the completed tests afterward for review purposes.

-Even though the tests don’t count toward the kids’ grades, low scores land a huge number of students in remedial classes while their classmates are learning new things.

-A handful of companies are getting rich at public expense by running this new world of education.

-It makes no sense to tie kids’ scores to teachers’ pay, as is now being done.

Opting out isn’t the only option. If you feel strongly about this, there are other political tools you can use. The old ones – lobbying politicians with letters and visits, writing letters to newspapers, public demonstrations, petitions, etc. – still work. A forum in March at the Petrova school spread the word effectively about testing concerns, and on Wednesday, the Saranac Lake Central School board passed a resolution opposing the current testing methods. That’s major progress, and we applaud it.

If you’re going to have your child take the tests, what about all the anxiety they may be feeling? Yes, many kids are stressing, including our own – more now than in past years – but they don’t have to panic. A certain amount of suspense is helpful going into a test; it prompts a child to rise to the occasion and try their best. If worries get to the point of being detrimental, remind kids to see it as a challenge, not an impending disaster. For many, it’s kind of fun.

Kids have been learning this kind of material all year, so let them go and see how they do. The point of testing is not to help every child get an A; it’s to assess accurately. They’re not perfect at that, of course, but tests never were.

The best advice we ever got about taking a test is probably the oldest advice: Get a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast beforehand. Don’t cram; the learning should be done long before the test. Relax as best you can and go with it.