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Standardized Tests Hurt Kids and Public Schools: Teachers, Parents Take a Stand Against Corporate-Backed Test Regime

Teachers, parents and activists are organizing to fight standardized testing in schools -- and the big companies that profit from the tests.

Early January is back-to-school time—students preparing for a new semester, a year half over. For many students, that means getting ready for a seemingly endless stream of standardized tests – tests meant to measure their progress, their teacher's competence, their school's quality, and their own readiness to take the next step in their education.

This January, though, a group of teachers, parents and activists are organizing against the tests. They have called the first national Opt Out Day for January 7, a day of actions across the country loudly withdrawing consent from a testing regime they say is hurting kids.

Peggy Robertson, a Colorado-based former teacher who is one of the founders of United Opt Out and a Save Our Schools March steering committee member, told AlterNet, “In our opinion, an act of civil disobedience is paramount to stop this.”

“It's very clear that this testing is being used to dismantle the public school system,” she added.

United Opt Out is calling for parents and children to opt out of taking their state's standardized tests. But January 7 isn't just about opting out, which Robertson recognizes isn't an option for everyone. In some states, that could have disastrous consequences for students, who might not be able to graduate or move on to the next grade. So they are pushing January 7 as a beginning, a launch date for 2012, for a movement that seems to be gathering steam, to change the narrative around testing as the only way to fix struggling public schools.

The activists are calling for an array of actions, including rallies, teach-ins and a postcard campaign expressing to state and local education officials their opposition to corporate education “reform,” from privatization of public schools to endless testing.

Jane Hirschmann has been fighting the creep of standardized testing in New York schools since 1996, with the coalition  Time Out from Testing. She told AlterNet, “I feel like there's an awakening right now, I feel like there are more parents talking about it, there are more parents angry about it.”

The way Robertson envisions opting out is much like a strike—if enough students do not take the tests then the data becomes statistically invalid and the school districts will have to negotiate. Like any other form of civil disobedience, it requires mass participation or it won't work. Hirschmann noted that even if students opted out of the tests, they're stuck with a curriculum that is designed around testing.

Still, Robertson is optimistic, noting that pockets of resistance are forming around the country. She's working with groups in Indiana, Florida and California, and is planning an action in her home state of Colorado. “If we can get lots of people to opt out, what are they going to do, stop an entire class from graduating? Are they really going to keep an entire third grade back?” she asked. “You know that we have the power to change this.”

The Spread of High-Stakes Testing

How did testing become so prevalent, and so potentially harmful, that parents would be willing to turn to civil disobedience?

“I used to be a teacher,” Robertson said. “I got out because I couldn't take it anymore, I couldn't take the CSAP [Colorado Student Assessment Program tests], being required to do everything around that.”

“There's no discussion anymore among anybody about what makes good teaching or good learning,” Hirschmann said. The only questions are "How do we get good test scores, how do we use the test scores?”

How did we get to this point? A lot of the blame certainly goes to George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind, but it's worth pointing out that support for standardized tests, as well as charter schools and other popular forms of school “reform” is bipartisan, despite mixed results.

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