‘Opting Out’ at Private Schools? Not Even Close

You may not enroll in this school until we see how well you do on a standardized admission exam. And after that, it will cost you $35,000 per year. Per kid. This is the reality at many private schools across America and it is certainly the case at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., where both of President Obama’s daughters are currently students. Despite a recent attempt by Hofstra University Professor Alan Singer to portray Sasha and Malia Obama, as well as other celebrity children, as having “opted out” of annual testing, the reality is that the Obama girls attend an institution that uses a score on a standardized exam as an admissions gatekeeper. Students are admitted and denied admission based, at least in part, on how they do on a single test. Not only are applicants to the upper school required to submit test scores, but so are all applicants to the middle and even lower school. Yes. Aspiring pre-schoolers must “opt in” to taking a test as part of the application process. So unless Mr. Singer supports changing all public schools to $35,000-a-year institutions that use standardized exams to determine who is and is not fit to attend, there is essentially no merit to this argument that Americans should follow the president’s lead and opt out of testing. Especially since the entire premise that the president and first lady have opted out of testing is demonstrably false. And let’s be honest. This is a conversation about a very prestigious subset of schools attended by a tiny—and yes, elite—fraction of America’s children. Sidwell Friends School, and other schools like it, have the luxury of knowing their incoming students are not below grade level in reading and math and will not require time and resources needing extra academic support. They can be confident in their expectation that their newly admitted students will boast an array of enriching and cultural experiences and that their “gaps” will be minimal, if there are any at all. And they do not use public money to do their work. So, truth be told, they would not depend on the data provided by annual testing in the same way that America’s public schools do, especially those that serve our most vulnerable and struggling students. In reading about the supporters of opting out that Mr. Singer quotes in his piece, it’s striking to read the reasons they give for refusing the test for their children and it seems logical to assume that they wish their kids’ schools didn’t have annual tests. My hunch, however, is that these parents would not be very happy if they followed Mr. Singer’s advice and “joined” the Obamas at a school like Sidwell Friends where a standardized exam is about as high stakes as it gets. Add the per-student price tag of $35,000 a year, and they may change their minds and decide that a little annual testing never really hurt anyone. But it has certainly helped many.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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