Parents who are instructing their children to boycott the state assessment tests may be scratching an itch, but they seem to be accomplishing little that is productive. Indeed, they could be costing their school district state and federal funding while teaching their offspring an unfortunate lesson about how adults cope with disagreeable requirements.
Schools in Western New York and across the state have begun to report on the number of students who refused to take the state ELA assessment last week. The numbers appear to be up, with more than 4,000 students opting out in Western New York and more than 30,000 statewide. Districts in which fewer than 95 percent of students take the test face the possibility of loss of funding.
In some ways, of course, parents’ actions fall well within the bounds of traditional American civil disobedience. It is hard to make your voice heard against the din of a bureaucracy in operation. The state would do well to take note of these parents’ concerns.
But there is also a distinction to be drawn. A protester puts himself at risk; parents boycotting the tests are putting their children’s education and the funding of their districts in the line of fire. And while it is certainly valuable to teach children the importance of standing up for their beliefs, it is of dubious value to teach them that they should defy their teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and the State Education Department over their concerns about testing.
Tests are a normal part of education and, in fact, of life. They have always been with us and always will be. Parents may have a case that the system needs to be re-engineered, but the response is disproportionate to whatever problems may exist.
In school, children should follow the rules, with only rare exceptions. Parents should insist that they do so, and not become instigators of testing truancy. There are other, better options for getting educators’ attention, including state and school board elections. Those options keep students in the loop, rather than making examples of them, and can be effective.