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Are parents turning kids into 'snowflakes' by opting them out of testing?


Increasingly, parents in Georgia and elsewhere are considering pulling their children out of standardized state exams because of stress and doubts about appropriateness. A bill advancing in the Legislature will make that choice a little easier.

House Bill 425, which spells out Georgia parents’ rights to refuse standardized state tests for their children, passed the state Senate Education and Youth Committee 4-1 Monday. It has already cleared the House.

Is this opt-out movement turning children into fragile snowflakes, as critics insist?

No, says Stephanie O’Leary, a New York clinical psychologist and author of the book, “Parenting in the Real World.” O’Leary trained in Georgia where she lived for seven years.

She dismisses the notion that opting young kids out of state standardized tests weakens their character, saying resilience comes from allowing children to master everyday challenges — getting up for school on their own, making their lunch and suffering the fallout when they forget their band uniform or field trip form. That’s where parents ought to slow down their rescue efforts and let children stumble, not on state tests that are developmentally inappropriate, said O’Leary in an interview Friday.

“It is great for our kids to go out and run around. But you wouldn’t sign a 7-year-old up for a full marathon because it is not developmentally appropriate,” she said. “Opting your kids out of a state test is not going to spoil them.”

House Bill 425 instructs the state school superintendent to identify policies for local school systems on the supervision of students who opted out and the alternatives provided to them during testing. The guidelines would bar school systems from “taking punitive action against a student, including, but not limited to, the adoption of sit and stare policies, in response to a student’s refusal to participate in a federal, state, or locally mandated standardized assessment.” The bill defines “sit and stare” as forcing opt-out students “to remain with their class in the test room without any alternate instructional activity.”

In Georgia, opting out poses fewer consequences to report cards in K-8 than in high school where End of Course exams count for 20 percent of final grades. O’Leary said opting out is not as relevant in high school as teens are more mature and can handle the focus and multitasking required by standardized tests, even poorly constructed ones. “They have the reasoning skills to cope with it,” she said.

HB 425 also encourages local school systems to give students the option of taking online assessments with paper and pencil. Georgia is moving all students to online assessments, which expedite scoring so schools can learn earlier which students require remediation. The transition has come with some technical glitches and parent complaints.

Some parents say their children perform better with pencil and paper than with a keyboard. The counter argument is that computer fluency is as essential today as math or reading skills, and paper and pen will eventually go the way of slide rules and overhead projectors. But students tasked with churning out a timed essay pay a penalty if they lack computer competency.

Your thoughts on this gray, cold Georgia morning?


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.