I am a father of two daughters attending public elementary
school in Brooklyn. We recently faced
the decision of whether to opt out of the annual year-end standardized tests for our third grader. (Our youngest is in kindergarten and not eligible for such joys yet.)
am writing this article to help myself understand my own biases and assumptions
towards the thorny choices one must face in balancing the need to understand
where your children are at educationally with the goal of giving them a
well-rounded—and not overly data-driven—education.
My children attend a progressive, non-zoned public school in Brooklyn called
the Brooklyn New School (also known as PS 146). In the past few years, our principal has begun to forcefully speak out
against New York's standardized English and math tests, which a state commission created to assess whether students are meeting the federally created Common Core State Standards. Given the background of the school, founded in the
1970s by parents who wanted a more progressive model in the Brooklyn school
system, it's no surprise that the head of our school is critical of this mandated exam. The surprise is how thoroughly
she convinced so many others to not sit for the exam—some 95 percent of the students opted out. My child was one of that overwhelming majority and, though I made
the choice of my own free will—and don't think I made a bad one—opting out has still caused some introspection on my part.
I am also cognizant that maybe my child would have nailed this test, and it would have prepared her for later challenges.
Part of my hesitation has to do with the fact that, no matter if I opt my child
out now, there will come a time not too far in the future when she really
will have to be tested and evaluated. I can't protect her from having
benchmarks to meet. Maybe doing it at the third-grade level is a good,
relatively low-pressure way to get her used to this idea. Also, as liberal as I
am, I am not one who has an unrealistic notion of how the world works vis-à-vis
competition, and I don't have a problem with achievement or the recognition of
it. Plus, it turns out my kid is a good tester, having aced the Gifted and
Talented test they administered to kindergartners a few years back. So I worried
that I was denying her a chance to shine.
On the flip side, I have also been lucky enough to lottery into one of the
greatest public elementary schools in Brooklyn. This school is founded on a
very progressive educational model, one that prioritizes experiential learning over
test prep. The kids go on field trips virtually every week, they play outside
every single day (unless it's below 20 degrees), they have dedicated art, music
and Spanish teachers, and an organic farm. It's that kind of school, and I love
When you go to that kind of school, you are buying into an educational model
and so, at the end of the day, I decided to opt my daughter out per the wishes of
the principal. And, yes, there was some subtle but noticeable pressure to do so
from other parents, some tut-tutting about people who were on the fence (I kept
my own fence-sitting very much to myself).
By the time to test came
around, my daughter had also been indoctrinated against it (after having had a "I wanna take the test" bravado earlier), and I pride myself on not
being a crowd follower.
At the end of the day, I am happy with the choice we made but cognizant of the
fact that most people aren't lucky enough to go to a school where this choice
is possible and so supported.
I am also cognizant that maybe my child would have nailed this test, and it would have prepared her for later challenges. But the idea that in some
schools she would have had to sit through seven months of test prep and rote
learning was the deciding factor to me.
Until test creators can design an elementary
school test that measures the broader kind of learning (understanding, rather
than memorizing), I will be glad for the education my daughters received while
leaving the standardized tests behind.