Opting Out of NCLB: Two Reports from a Growing Movement

April 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News, Education Revolution E-News | 2 Comments

Jerry Mintz & Linda Darling-Hammond

Jerry Mintz & Linda Darling-Hammond

It seems that we practically have a national consensus that No Child Left Behind has been a failure. Yet people still seem to be propping it up. Many of us are concerned that the new commissioner of education will not scrap it, although Linda Darling Hammond, President Obama’s education advisor at the time, told me that he would end it within a year of being elected when I met with her in Washington during the election season. Several people in diverse parts of the country are taking things into their own hands, encouraging state-wide movements to opt out of NCLB where that is an option. The feeling is that if this can become a national movement, we, the people can put an end to NCLB by making it clearly unable to function for lack of participation.

We also had another important group contact us recently with a plan to further organize such a movement through a workshop they will offer at the AERO conference in June. By the way, don’t miss this year’s conference, our 20th anniversary event!

Below are statements from organizers of this movement in Colorado and Washington State:

Don’t Take the Test!

by Juanita Doyon

Conscientious objection in the form of refusal has been a great American tradition since Boston Harbor was transformed into the largest cup of tea in the world, in 1773. Fast forward to bus boycotts in Birmingham, AL, in response to unjust treatment of riders based on skin color. Now, compare the moral inequities of forced taxation without representation and forced segregation with moral inequity of forced standardization of learning and performance brought upon our public school children by the imposition of widespread, incessant, high-stakes, standardized testing.

Battle cry of the Test Resistance– “Don’t drink the tea; Don’t ride the bus; Don’t take the test!”

In my home state of Washington, the brand of test is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The test has been in place for twelve years, and the process was adapted to fit federal No Child Left Behind requirements, in 2002. WASL passage as a requirement for receipt of a high school diploma was put into place in 2008, resulting in the denial of graduation to thousands of deserving young people.

In Washington, parents and students claimed their right to opt out of state testing soon after WASL was introduced. In 2000, a fellow mother and I founded Mothers Against WASL by standing on a street corner holding signs proclaiming the right to “Just Opt Out.” The state education office soon labeled the action of opt out “refusal” and wrote a policy to match the parent and/or student action.

Mothers Against WASL (MAW) continued as a grassroots group until 2005, when we established a nonprofit organization, Parent Empowerment Network (PEN). PEN, which still maintains MAW and the website www.mothersagainstwasl.org , provides up-to-date information, support, and a complete opt out packet for parents and students.

As with any resistance movement, backlash and attempts at manipulation and coercion by the institutional hierarchy are inevitable. Depending on the school and district involved, parents and students can experience an inordinate amount of pressure to conform. PEN exists to help and provides parents with the backing of testing facts and statistics and current state policy. Parents are free to refer badgering school administrators to PEN leadership for “assistance.”

PEN also supports teachers who take bold steps to refuse to give the WASL or inform parents of their right to opt children out of the test. In 2008, Seattle teacher Carl Chew refused to administer the WASL to his 6th grade class and was suspended without pay for two weeks. PEN helped Mr. Chew publicize his stand with a press release. Carl’s courage in doing the right thing for students received national attention. In 2009, two Seattle special education teachers refused to administer the alternative state test to their students with profound disabilities. Parents of all of the students had informed the teachers that they did not want their children tested, but the district insisted that the teachers did not follow proper opt out procedures and suspended the teachers without pay. PEN again sent out a press release; media accounts have received national and international attention. PEN has pledged to help parents and teachers in this situation file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.

As long as one child is denied access to well-rounded educational opportunity, the joy of learning, advancement to the next grade level, or a high school diploma, based on his or her scores on a standardized test, all children suffer. Resistance is never futile. At the very least, it teaches our children to stand up for what is right and just. At most, it provides a vital lesson to the institutional hierarchy about who is rightfully responsible for a child’s education, whether the choice is public, private or home school– the parent.

Juanita Doyon is the Director of Parent Empowerment Network and the author of a book to encourage educational activism, Not With Our Kids You Don’t! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools, Heinemann, 2003. Juanita can be emailed at jedoyon@aol.com

Here is a summary on opting out of tests in Colorado from Don Perl:
First of all, before we started encouraging parents to exempt their children from high stakes standardized testing, we looked through the Colorado Revised Statutes to see what legislation we could find that would support parents, as taxpayers and as critical partners in any public education enterprise, to act in the best interests of their children in the event they determined that a specific program undermined their ethics, or ran counter to their values for their children.  And voilá, we found Colorado Revised Statutes 22 – 1 – 123  (5) (a) which states:

“…A school or school district employee who requires participation in a survey, analysis, or evaluation in a public school’s curriculum or other official school activity shall obtain the written consent of a student’s parent or legal guardian prior to the student being given any survey, analysis, or evaluation intended to reveal information, whether the information is personally identifiable or not, concerning the student or the student’s parent’s or legal guardian’s:  (II) Mental and psychological conditions potentially embarrassing to the student or the student’s family;…”

We put this specific statute on our website, and you can find it prominently there at www.thecbe.org.  In most cases, parents who call or write are encouraged that they do have these rights.  Many note also that the school has the responsibility to secure their written consent for the testing regimen.  (And, of course, no school does this.)  The next step is for them to invoke these rights.  Often they vacillate.  And for good reason.  They and their children may face reprehensible repercussions for stepping forward.  A ninth grader in Bennett, Colorado, four years ago was threatened with the prospect of retaking ninth grade if she followed through on her written statement not to submit to the testing regimen.  Thus she and her parents took the course of least resistance, and she took the test.

On the other hand, just this past year in Commerce City, Colorado, 100 parents exempted their children from CSAP testing because the district had gone through a restructuring process to convert Hansen Elementary School to a test prep center since the test scores at Hansen had been low.  The parents railed against this restructuring for they had not been consulted, and thus took the course of exempting their children from testing.  They saw this as their only recourse by way of a protest.   This same scenario took place four years ago at a bilingual elementary school in Aurora, Crowley Elementary.  The parents were outraged that the school was going through a restructuring (based on low test scores) without any consideration of the wishes of the parents.   And as I write this, a very similar scenario is taking place in Boulder at Columbine Elementary School.  In the latter case, we have received several requests for our political buttons.  (Our logo with a red line crossing out the letters, CSAP, which appear in black.)

We always advise parents that both they and their children have to be stalwart.  They may have to continue to repeat that freeing word, “no,” many times.  And, too, they may have to counter unconscionable threats from administrators by using the knowledge of their own rights.  We encourage parents to say something like, “If you continue to pressure us to conform to this regimen, we are quite sure that other parents would like to know their rights, and we also suspect that the press would like to know more about this controversy that you are choosing to engage in.”  Often this is enough to motivate administration to relent.   So, simply to sum up, parents seem to know more and more about their rights, as each year brings more calls and e-mails.  Our website leads with the rights of parents with a simple opt out letter that they can use.  Parents are learning about our presence simply by word of mouth, and by our political buttons, bumper stickers, and literature which we make available through the presentations that our members make in the course of the year.  Here at the University of Northern Colorado, we have a large teacher education program, and I often make presentations to classes of aspiring teachers, to classes of students of cultural studies, and to psychology classes in which I strive to inform them of the brutal harms and injustices of high stakes standardized testing in general, and CSAP testing in particular.

If you would like further information, do not hesitate to contact me.


Don Perl
Faculty, Department of Hispanic Studies
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, Colorado 80639


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  1. The ideas here are excellent. Now how do we spread them? Is there a list of states with an “opt out of the test clause” anywhere? I have been looking. The waste of kids’ time, teachers’ time, and funds paying companies to supply all of this testing material is outrageous. The system is defeating exactly what it purports to be addressing.

    So how do we get national media coverage or a blog explosion going to ignite parents to help put a stop to what is happening to their kids and to what is happening to the creativity of teachers everywhere?

    Terry Smith
    Pepperdine University
    Doctoral Student in Educational Technology

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