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DeKalb teen: Students would like to opt out of tests, but our grades would suffer

Many parents and students are tired of the stress around standardized testing, which is at its zenith now in Georgia.

So, why don't more of them opt out?

Here is an answer from Jordyn Seybolt, a junior at Lakeside High School in DeKalb.

Seybolt wrote this in response to a teacher's urging on this blog last week that more students opt out of standardized tests:

By Jordyn Seybolt

I read the teacher essay on the Get Schooled blog advocating for parents to opt their children out of taking the Georgia Milestones. I agree we need to encourage the opt-out movement in Georgia. However, high school students have no choice but to take these tests.

Each Georgia Milestones test counts toward 20 percent of our total grade. So, if I refused to take the American Literature End of Course test, I presume the state would give me a zero for that percentage, dropping my grade significantly.

After the Georgia Department of Education released its testing schedule last week, my classmates and I became even more stressed over the End of Course Milestones because some of the tests overlap with our AP exam schedules. One scheduling conflicts affects every junior taking  the AP U.S. History exam.

The College Board released its testing schedule last year, setting the APUSH exam for the morning of Friday, May 6. According to the Georgia Milestone schedule released last week, all juniors must take Part III of the American Literature EOC in the afternoon of the same day.

AP exams generally run longer than predicted due to late start times or other human errors, so the APUSH exam will end after 11:00 a.m. Even if students have time to make it to our EOC test, we will be exhausted after three hours writing essays and answering multiple choice and short answer questions for the famously grueling AP exam. We will not be able to perform our best on these state tests, which is a huge problem since they count toward 20 percent of our grades.

The GADOE created two make-up days for students, May 9 and May 10, but those are still days when other AP exams take place, which means additional conflicts for some students.

I have sat through mandatory testing for years even though the tests seem designed to help the school district look good rather than help students learn.  I have seen many articles written by parents about opting their young children out of tests, but I don't see many opinions coming from high school students.

Yet, I hear my peers in the hallways and at the lunch tables complaining about irrelevant and excessive testing, and how we all want a change. But, as teenagers, we all feel powerless in making that change.

A teacher sent me some excellent questions about the Milestones high school tests to which Jordyn refers:

  1. Unlike AP exams, we have no access to a released test -- just two study guides. And these are horribly written. In the case of the American Literature Milestones/EOCs, students are given two articles to read and use to inform their arguments. However, there are no citations for the articles.

  1. We have no idea who is scoring these short answer and essay responses and how these responses will be scored (legitimately) in the time required. In our school districts, students are taking these exams on May 6 or May 8 or even later if they have conflicts that require them to make up the exam. But we are supposed to have the scores back in time for grade posting. How is this possible? How many juniors are taking the exam in the state? And how many written responses will be scored? Last year 529,000 students took the AP English exam; about 900 high school and college instructors scored one of the three essays for seven straight 8-hour days. Are the people scoring these Milestones essays using fake "exemplar" essays or real student essays? There is a difference. Anyone in the legitimate scoring business can explain this.

  1. What, exactly, are the expectations and scoring procedures for this state test that determines 20 percent of students' grades, teachers' job performance, and school funding?

  1. At the school and school district level, who schedules the exam times? College Board announces its testing schedule a year ahead of time. Juniors taking the American Literature end of course test are also scheduled to take the AP U.S. History exam on the same day.

  1.  How did the DOE determine that any information from last year's test was valid? Students weren't receiving grades, so how does all the qualitative research now driving public education pedagogy apply? If students lacked the "extrinsic motivation" so often discussed in edu-research, what determined that any information was valid?

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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.