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Typical anti-testing activist: Educated, white, married, politically liberal parent

In the last few years, there's been a rise in parents pulling their children out of high-stakes exams at school.

While opting out occurs across the country, the northeast appears to be ground zero for the movement. For example, the opt out rate last year in California for state language arts and math tests was 3 percent. It was more than 20 percent in New York.

The movement is fledgling in Georgia where nearly 4,300 exams were not taken by Georgia students last year. This year, the AJC found a few instances of students opting out, including 60 kids in Gwinnett, 145 in Fulton and 24 in DeKalb.

Who are the parents making this choice? Researchers from Teachers College of Columbia University sought to find out by recruiting respondents online, through links on the webpages and social media channels of opt out groups. They asked them to take a lengthy survey. The national sample consisted of a 1,641 respondents from 47 states. (If you go here, you can find the actual survey starting on Page 60.)

The research shows former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan got at least one thing right when he described the anti-testing and Common Core movement as “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

According to the Columbia report: “The typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average.”

Among the other findings of the survey and analysis:

•The opt out movement includes more than just parents who have opted their children out.  It also includes parents whose children are in public school but did not opt out; parents whose children are homeschooled and/or in private school; and individuals without children who are supporting the movement. About four‐fifths of the respondents (81.5 percent) were parents or guardians of school‐aged children. The vast majority of them (92.9 percent) indicated that their children attended public schools. Approximately three‐quarters of respondents who are parents or guardians of school‐aged children (74.5 percent) have opted their children out of testing. Nine out of ten (92.1 percent) respondents who are parents or guardians of school‐aged children said they are likely to opt out in the future.

•Parents refuse standardized tests even in states where opting out is not permitted or discouraged by policy makers. The share of parents who opted out is lowest in states where opt out is prohibited (73.2 percent) and highest in states where refusal and opt out are permitted with constraints (85.7 percent). We find no significant differences in opting out between respondents residing in states where opt out is permitted and other respondents.

•The movement brings together Democrats (46.1 percent), Republicans (15.1 percent), Independents (33.3 percent), and supporters of other parties (5.5 percent).

•Most participants have come to the opt out movement during the past 3‐4 years, with almost half (48.9 percent) joining during the past two years. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – play a key role in mobilizing participants, as do social networks. Compared to their peers in other parts of the country, respondents in the South have heard about the movement most recently.

•The opt out movement is about more than just opposition to high‐stakes testing. Respondents gave many reasons as to why they participate. In particular, respondents feel that judging teacher performance by students’ standardized test scores is unfair (36.9 percent). They also are protesting the narrowing of the curriculum, corporatization/privatization of education, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

•Motivations vary, depending on whether the respondent was a teacher or not. Teachers (45.0 percent) say that they are opposed to tying teacher evaluation to student performance on standardized tests while non‐teachers were more likely to mention opposition to ‘teaching to the test’ and to the Common Core.

•Opt out activists are concerned with current educational reforms and efforts to improve public schools. Compared to the general public, they are more critical of the use of different types of testing in education, especially high‐stake tests. Also, opt out activists view increasing school funds as important idea for improving schools. While the general public rank this idea in the 4th place (out of five), opt out activists rank this idea in the 2nd place.











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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.