The hand signal that means, “quiet” starts at one end of the room. It slowly makes its way across the entire auditorium. It is possible to put all of the students who have opted out of the New York state assessment tests in one room and have them do “busy work”. Whether or not it actually works is questionable. Each district has its own method for what to do with the children who have opted out of the ELA and NY State Math Assessment tests. While the results may vary from school to school, the end results are essentially the same. Only a small percentage of students on the elementary school level make valuable use of their time by reading or doing work on their own. Many students view the two to three hours of testing as “free time”. They do their best to let the adults in the room know it.
The process sounds simple. The children who have “opted out” of the state tests are gathered up and sent to one of several places: the auditorium, the gym where there are tables set up, or other classrooms with other children who have also opted out. One or two teachers are assigned to each room. The auditorium may have as many as 13 adults in the room. This includes aides who are assigned to individual children who have decided to opt out. Students are instructed to bring with them books and any schoolwork they can work on during test time. They are not allowed to bring in toys. They are not supposed to be “having fun,” but rather doing something educational. For “opt out” students who are sent to the computer room, they are not supposed to be playing video games, but rather using math or reading Web sites specifically determined by the school.
While many students do abide by the rules, many do not. To enforce these rules is an extremely difficult task. To have students maintain silence in a large room is even more difficult. If you allow them to talk at a low level, it quickly escalates to a large group of people making a lot of noise all at once.
One caveat of the students who have opted out is that they are not supposed to be learning anything new. This is to be fair to the students who are taking the tests. (They should not be missing anything simply because they are testing.) However, if the only choices are to bring a book(s) to read, or schoolwork to do, how long can a child sit and wait for three hours to end before he/she can go back to their classroom? They can only read so much, or have the patience to sit for so long before they need a change of scenery.
Is there a better way to handle the process for opting out? With so many students choosing not to take the tests, perhaps it would be more beneficial to keep the “opt out” students in their classrooms with their teachers. They could review what they have learned throughout the school year. The much smaller percentage of students who are opting to take the tests could then go to the gym. Desks would be set up, allowing them to take the test as if they were in their regular classrooms. In this regard, everyone is kept busy doing real work. No new work is being taught, just review. The amount of time that is whiled away by the students who have opted out would be eliminated. The frustration level on the part of the teachers (and students) would be minimized, since fewer people would have to leave their classrooms and everyone would be working.
Can you think of other scenarios for how to make the “opt out” testing situation better for everyone involved? Please write in with your comments below. Perhaps a new solution can be found that will be fair to teachers, students and the administration, too!