Across the state, and in some New York City schools, pockets of students and parents are “opting out” of this month’s reading and math tests to protest the tests’ increasing stakes. In some school districts where officials openly shared the criticism, the tally of dissenters could be significant, according to early reports.
But while the opt-out movement has gotten renewed attention in the last two years, since the state began preparing for tougher new tests, it isn’t new. In 2001, at a time when state testing was confined to a few grades and was not used to assess students or teachers, two thirds of eighth-graders at Scarsdale Middle School in Westchester County refused to take the exams. Parents, educators, and local school officials had encouraged the boycott.
The New York Times reported at the time that the protest was logistically complex:
This was the first of several days of eighth-grade tests that parents had vowed to boycott in protest of what they see as a test prep culture and the lock-step instruction it engenders. … The tests yesterday were in science and were given to four groups of children in two-hour stages because the lab space was limited. The parents had sworn not to withdraw their children from school beyond the testing periods, so executing the boycott required a constant stream of minivans to pick children up, shuttle them to designated homes and then return them.
That fall, then-State Education Commissioner Richard Mills sternly warned the district against allowing families to opt out of the next round of tests. The following spring, students at two New York City schools, School of the Future and the Institute for Collaborative Education, refused to take their tests, writing, “I object to high-stakes testing” at the top of their answer sheets instead.
But families in Scarsdale went back to the testing table, telling the New York Times that they did not want their superintendent to get in trouble. It was an outcome predicted in a New York Times story about the boycott movement in the middle-class suburb:
The boycotts tend to stop when the consequences kick in. Far fewer students boycotted the tests in Massachusetts this week; for the first time, the tests were required for graduation. And here, parents say they will not ask high school students to boycott the Regents exams.