Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Testing, Testing, Testing: Tale #3

3. Can I opt my child out of the MEAP?

Many people are finding their way to my blog by virtue of searching for "opt out of the MEAP" or some such phrase. And on our Ann Arbor STOP: Stop Overtesting Our Pupils! facebook group there has been a fair amount of discussion of this--with some people posting their opt out letters.

People have been asking, "Can I opt out?" and the answer is yes, but...

Michigan's Revised School Code says:

THE REVISED SCHOOL CODE (EXCERPT) Act 451 of 1976   380.10 Rights of parents and legal guardians; duties of public schools.   [M.S.A. 15.4010 ] Sec. 10. It is the natural, fundamental right of parents   and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and   education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the   needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal   guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational   skills in a safe and positive environment. HistoryAdd. 1995, Act 289,   Eff. July 1, 1996 .

Based on that, the answer would be yes.
But it's never been tested (to my knowledge) in court.

The state of Michigan more or less says that districts can decide if they want to let anybody opt out, but there are only a few circumstances in which if students don't take the MEAP the district won't be penalized. Those circumstances might include a child who is so severely disabled (s)he cannot take even a test that is modified; or a child who is so sick (think chemotherapy or another long-term illness) that they cannot take the test. Otherwise, if a school does not reach a 95% participation rate, the school will be penalized. Financially.

Some reasons that parents have told me they don't want their child to take the MEAP are:
*religious reasons
*their child has been sick and missed the original testing days, and they don't want them missing more instructional time (the MEAP is given during a certain time period, and many of the days are solely scheduled as makeup days)
*they believe that testing is wrong. . . unnecessary. . . evil. . . immoral

And guess what--several of those parents are also teachers.

But this 95% participation rate barrier has districts very worried, because a few chronic truants could bring a school close to missing that 95% participation rate. And financial penalties are, to put it seriously, serious.

One of my friends who decided to opt out her child from the MEAP was told that the only way that she could opt her child out was if her child was kept out of school for the entire three-week period of the test.

If you want to understand what high stakes testing means, this is a great example. Nowhere in the world would it be considered educationally sound to intentionally keep a child out of school for three weeks over what ends up being something like 5-10 hours of testing, right? And obviously, unless you are a person who doesn't work, it would be super difficult to keep your child out of school for three weeks. [Trust me, I know--one of my children was sick for four weeks once, and that was a very difficult time.]

So what is the point of that grandstanding? It's to make it virtually impossible to keep a child from being tested, right? It's to force parents to let their kids be tested.

And it points out the farcical nature of all this testing. The MEAP has absolutely nothing to do with the child in question (for whom being in the classroom and skipping a few tests would presumably be the much better choice). No, all of this testing has to do with school finance. Who benefits? The schools, but not the kids. [OK, I cede your point--if the schools don't have money, the kids do suffer. Nonetheless, I maintain my own point--this is not about whether your child is "proficient" in math. You probably already know the answer to that question and don't need the test to tell you.]

As for the draconian threat of saying, "Well if you don't want your child to be tested you will have to keep him or her out of school for three weeks?" It reminds me of some absurd threats I would make to my preschool son. "Well if you don't do X I will keep you from watching tv for the next five years!"

This showdown is so foolishly theater of the absurd that it reminds me of some people who might force a government shutdown in order to try to derail Obamacare. Oh, wait...


  1. I am not defending the practice. Really. However, there are some who believe that the law requiring schools to administer the MEAP requires that it be administered to every child present on that day. So what schools are actually saying is not "keep your kid home," but rather, "If they're in school, we're going to be forced to test them."

  2. Thanks Naomi, that is interesting. It is my observation that various district's practices/approaches to opting out of the MEAP have changed over time--certainly since my oldest started in school. I did speak to a state staff person about parents opting out. (I don't have permission to quote or identify her so I won't, plus I didn't ask her about that directly--since I didn't know about that perspective.) She gave me the impression that the state's point of view is that districts can excuse whomever they want, but the state won't excuse them from the participation rate standard. So I wonder if your explanation is an excuse that school districts use to protect themselves?

  3. I don't get why people are so hot for their kids not to participate. If you don't care about the test, don't care about it, and don't make a big deal out of it to your kid. If it's meaningless to you, great. Your kid can just go in and doodle all over the test. That's basically my attitude. If you keep your kids home, you have the chance to hurt school districts even more financially, which is the last thing they need right now.

  4. Anonymous, it's not just about my individual kid. It's about what all these hours and hours of overlapping, redundant, high stakes tests are doing in regards to narrowing curriculum, decreasing education time, altering classroom climate... And on and on.

  5. Out of an entire school year, it's not that many hours. And I didn't say don't fight against it if you think it is wrong, do so to change the policy, but don't screw the district over because they are following the law.

    And, there does need to be some form of measurement and accountability. I agree not necessarily this testing, but the lack thereof is why we are here now.

  6. I agree not necessarily this testing, but the lack thereof is why we are here now.

    There has been testing for decades. I graduated from high school in 1983, and we took standardized tests through middle school (Iowa Test of Basic Skills is the main one I remember - although I lived in New Mexico). My in-laws taught in Texas from mid 80s through mid-2000s, and there was standardized testing that entire time. In fact, my father-in-law spent many years where he was the "drill instructor" for those who were using drill-and-practice computer software to prep for test retakes. Passing might have been a graduation requirement, but I'm not positive. The MEAP in various instantiations has been around since ~1970.

    How has any of that improved education? Norm-referenced standardized testing does not necessarily show what skills a child has; it shows how well they can do multiple choice exams. What do they really measure? And how is that turned into accountability? I would love to see reasonable measures of what my child knows and how a school helps children improve, but I just don't think a scantron form can capture it. In fact, I find the detailed report cards we get in AAPS elementary schools to be vastly more informative than the ones my mom saved from my elementary school days, which just show 1 overall letter for each subject area.

  7. Exactly, Tricia. As to what standardized tests actually measure? The answer to that is Socioeconomic Status. And that's about it. I met a professor a few years ago who wrote his dissertation demonstrating how one could predict, with alarming accuracy, a students' zip code based on his or her standardized test scores.

  8. Also.... It IS that many hours. The NWEA is done over many days, three times per year. The last math one my kid took lasted three hours and still wasn't finished. It's such overkill, and testing the same things over and over, with all these different redundant tests.

  9. I think most people now are upset about the common core testing -- the testing is set to expand to 6 weeks or more. It is getting ridiculous.