By Sam Radford
Most people are familiar with the “opt-out” effort, a group that encourages parents to withdraw their children from annual state assessments in Math and English Language Arts. But what is lesser known is that this opt-out is primarily based in more affluent school districts, which comes at the expense of children outside these communities.
A recent study looked at the relationship between families’ incomes and student test participation. The study finds that the poorest school districts, in terms of the percentage of students that are eligible for free/reduced lunch, have an average opt-out rate of about six percent. The richest districts averaged an opt-out rate of over 65 percent – a tenfold difference in test participation.
In districts with the lowest opt-out rates, it was found that nearly three out of four students are eligible for free/reduced lunch – more than double the rate in districts with the highest opt-out rates. What’s more, 70 percent of districts with the highest free- and reduced-lunch eligibility rates across the state saw opt-out percentages of less than 5 percent.
The findings indicate a clear message: Low-income communities are saying yes to the test because they know that information is power.
Years before the inception of these assessments, teachers had no objective way to track the progress of their students in comparison to others around the state. This gap in understanding disproportionately hurt students in low-income areas, with achievement gaps growing and the system allowing millions of kids to slip through the cracks.
Assessments were created as a universal, easily-understood tool to measure student progress. The tests provide high-quality instruction and accountability to the low-income schools and families who need it most.
And yet, opt-out organizers want to end the test, fighting to convince low-income parents to opt their students out. They argue that these parents would opt out on their own accord if they had all of the right information. In fact, millions has been spent on publicizing the opt-out campaign and countless stories have been written to chronicle it.
To assume that these parents are ignorant is insulting.
The truth is parents in lower-income communities know what we are doing. We are saying yes to the tests because our children deserve the kinds of benefits that wealthier children have had for decades. That comes when you know what it’s like to be overlooked, and from knowing what your children need, thanks in part to the results of universal assessments that were carefully developed with those very children in mind. To opt out of that progress would take our children backward.
By taking the tests, parents are fighting against the misguided notions of the opt-out movement and ensuring students get an equal shot at a successful future. We are doing the right thing not just for our children, but all parents across New York, no matter what neighborhood or family they come from.
Sam Radford is president of the Buffalo Schools District Parent Coordinating Council and a member of the High Achievement New York coalition.