The mere mention of standardized tests causes a stir in many people, particularly the students who begrudgingly take them, the concerned parents, and the teachers trying to shape a curriculum around them.
While the benefits and failures of an educational system based on standardized tests remain a contentious issue, what is undeniable is that there is a significant movement to opt out of these tests and provide students with an alternative approach to education. As this movement grows and more communities refuse to participate, a question should be asked: Should school districts and parents be allowed to decide if the tests are right for their students without facing the penalty of reduced educational funding?
It should surprise no one that the abilities of students in one school district do not necessarily reflect those of students in other districts, even those in the surrounding area. Students in a low-income district are unlikely to see the same results as a district filled with wealthy families who have access to private tutoring and other methods of additional test preparation. Therefore, it makes little sense to hold those two districts to the same standard simply because their borders touch or because they lie within the same state.
While the intent behind standardized tests is to ensure all students reach the same educational standard, they only evaluate the students at the same level; the students still receive varying levels of preparation from their native districts. By leaving the decision to opt out of the tests to each school district, those with deeper knowledge of the students’ abilities can decide whether or not they are up to the challenge or if participation dooms an unacceptable percentage of them to failure.
Organizations and social media groups opposed to standardized tests encourage parents to learn more about the tests, and many parents subsequently attempt to opt out on an individual basis. Maryland does not give parents a way to officially opt out of tests, yet there are no mandatory punishments if parents keep their children home during test periods.
Despite this, Cindy Rose, of Frederick County, set a significant precedent earlier this year when her daughter was allowed to avoid the Maryland School Assessment while remaining in school. This is the type of decision many concerned parents would like to see, allowing their children to avoid the test without fear of punishment or the public shaming many believe results from “sit and stare” policies, which require students not taking the exam to remain at their desks without alternative assignments or activities. Whether or not school districts are given the ability to opt out of the tests, perhaps granting parents the ability to do so on an individual basis would prevent such policies and allow students to remain in school and actively engaged in activities apart from the controversial tests.
Critics of mandatory standardized testing argue that it renders education less effective and unequal; proponents claim it is the only way to expect a common standard of achievement from students. Wherever the truth lies, the needs and overall welfare of each student should be paramount, not ideology or politics.
Aaron Chumbris is an independent author and taught academic writing at Shepherd University for 21⁄2 years.