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November 22, 2017

Opt Out mom said NO to high stakes testing, now other parents follow her lead

The Chamness children attend public schools, but they’ve never taken a standardized test.

The state of Texas says they’re supposed to do it, but mom Edy Chamness has refused to subject them to 24 hours of solid testing time every year.

Edy, a former school teacher, is the seed-planter behind a grassroots movement that has parents refusing to allow states to assess their children with high stakes standardized tests.

Children testify about standardized testing, opt-out movement
Listen to the experts. The Chamness children testified before Texas lawmakers about how standardized testing negatively impacts their school experience.

How high are those stakes?

A Texas child can pass every single class, but if she performs poorly on one of the state exams, she can be retained in a grade* or be placed in remedial programs. Middle school and high school students lose one of their electives so they can take a year-long test remedial class instead.

Many parents have seen their children become physically ill or emotionally distraught thanks to the high stakes testing culture. They’ve wiped tears and rocked 9-year-olds who honestly believed they were stupid because of test results. Teachers like Korinna Kirchoff  feel the pain, too. As she wrote in the Dallas Morning News:

“There’s the pain of being bored out of my mind watching them test. The pain of losing a productive day. The pain of watching my students get violently ill with anxiety attacks when they exhibit stress-induced symptoms. Each year, I hear of at least one student who vomits on the test. Yes, we wrap it in a plastic bag and send it to TEA (Texas Education Agency) in Austin. “

Through the Facebook group Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests, Edy and other parent activists provide resources and information about what they can do to combat the testing culture and its effects on children. Thanks to the heavy political resistance and public misconceptions about “stupid students and bad teachers,” it often feels like an uphill battle during a mudslide.

“The politicians think there’s a test out there that can really show how much students are learning or how effective a school is. They think these tests are going to help them close the achievement gap,” said Edy. “Tests DON’T do that; teachers do.”

Although they’re not allowed to publicly speak out against standardized testing and its often developmentally-inappropriate curriculum, many teachers hate it as much as the kids do and wish they didn’t have to do it. Unfortunately, Texas does not have strong teachers’ unions in place to support them, and a dissenting teacher can easily lose her job. Teachers can also lose their jobs if their students’ scores do not pass state muster, and the state has already shut down entire schools because of poor standardized test performance.

That’s rather unfortunate because teachers, not politicians, are the real experts on education and know what works with children.

“Teachers are not given the respect or freedom to do their jobs,” said Edy. “The more we pump up these tests, the more we beat down the teaching profession, and that beat-down is ultimately going to hurt our kids.”

“The testing consumes a lot of energy and resources (financial and time) that should be going to our classrooms,” she added. “The government won’t listen, and teachers can’t speak out. It’s up to parents to make it stop.”

The opt out movement of civil disobedience is doing what it can to make a stop. On a national level, roughly 670,000 students refused to take state standardized tests –  of that group, 240,000 were from New York and 100,000 were from Colorado.

While most states and school districts contend parents and students have no legal right to refuse testing, moms and dads – not bureaucrats – still have authority and rights when it comes to their children. However, Texas education officials make it very difficult to exercise those rights and often intimidate families who opt-out with threats of truancy court, required summer school or failing a grade.

The Chamness family never faced fall-out from the decision to forgo standardized tests, and Edy credits that to a great school with a commitment to the things that really matter.

Her eighth-grade son surprised her a few months ago when he said HE WANTED to take the state assessments. So Edy let him do it. When the scores came in, her son trashed them without ever looking at them.

“He said the scores were meaningless,” she said. “And he’s right. No high stakes test is ever going to provide meaningful information for the students or schools.”

*Passing STAAR scores are required for students to advance to the sixth and ninth grades.

Are you interested in learning more about the movement to rollback high stakes standardized testing? Check out these articles and organizations:

Originally published July 2017.


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