Laura Waters

Research Says: Yes, #OptOutSoWhite

In Opt Out: An Examination of Issues, a peer-reviewed paper that is part of Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Research Report Series, Randy E. Bennett analyzes "early press accounts" that ascribed test refusals to a "viral grass-roots effort led by parents who object to state-mandated testing." He concludes that "the reality is more complicated." Here are a few highlights, but I recommend a full reading.

Who’s Opting Out?

On the demographics of the parents who opt their children out of state standardized tests (emphasis added):
With respect to districts, on New York's Long Island and in some upstate districts, most eligible students did not participate. In the Chateaugay, Rocky Point, and Onteora Central school districts, the refusal rates were 90 percent, 80 percent, and 66 percent, respectively (Harris & Fessenden, 2015). However, in the state's largest district, the New York City schools, a refusal rate of just 1.4 percent was reported (Harris, 2015a), quite consistent with the 1 percent average observed in the nation's 66 largest urban school systems (Council of the Great City Schools [CGCS], 2015).
Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation. In New York, opt-outs were more likely to be White and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year's state examinations. Those students were less likely to be economically disadvantaged, to come from districts serving relatively large numbers of poor students, and to be an English language learner. Similar associations for race and SES occurred in Colorado and Washington. These demographic associations are consistent with attitudes toward testing, which polls suggest is perceived less favorably by Whites and higher-income cohorts than by members of minority and lower-SES groups. These differences in perception and action have led to opt out becoming a civil-rights issue since it has the potential to distort state test results, complicating the identification of schools and districts that are failing to educate traditionally underserved students effectively.
In sum, the sources cited above suggest that significant levels of nonparticipation were restricted in 2015 to a minority of states and, except for New York, Colorado and Rhode Island, to relatively small subsets of their eligible test-taking populations.

What do parents think of testing?

On parent views of standardized testing, including differences among White parents and parents of color:
In [a 2015] poll only 25 percent of members of the public supported allowing parents to decide whether their children are tested, while 59 percent were against parental choice. Among parents specifically, 32 percent favored opt-out, with 52 percent opposed. Finally, most teachers dismissed opt-out (57 percent); only 32 percent gave it their support.
Results from the PDK and Gallup (2015) national survey suggest that demographic differences in views toward opt-out go beyond Washington, Colorado and New York. In that poll, 44 percent of Whites supported allowing parents to excuse their students from testing and 41 percent were opposed to such exclusion. In stark contrast, only 28 percent of Blacks supported opt-out and 57 percent were against it. The comparable figures for Hispanics were 35 percent supporting and 45% opposing. When asked if they would exclude their own child, the majority in each group would not, but the differences among groups were clearly evident: 21 percent of Blacks, 28 percent of Hispanics and 34 percent of Whites would exclude their own children from testing, whereas 75 percent, 65 percent, and 54 percent, respectively, would not opt them out.
And here it comes:
Given the clear differences in attitudes about, participation in, and supposed benefit from state testing among racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, it should not be surprising that opt-out has become a civil rights issue.

Time on Testing

How much time do we spend testing students? Not much:
As the research appears to indicate, the total time devoted to state and district assessments does not appear to be especially excessive on average, either in percentage terms or in hours.


What's the bottom line?
In combination, these results suggest that the public may have more favorable views toward testing than either the existence of the opt-out movement or the extensive media coverage given it would imply.
Read the whole thing. You can download it here as a PDF.
An original version of this post appeared on the NJ Left Behind blog as New Research from ETS Confirms #OptOutSoWhite.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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