As high-stakes, standardized testing has become a high-stress spring ritual in public schools across the nation, a vocal minority of parents have resisted the trend by refusing to allow their children to take the tests.
In 2016, two professors at Teachers College conducted the first national survey of Opt Out activists– both parents and educators – to learn more about why they oppose federally mandated tests and to identify trends that could inform the debates about the role of standardized testing in American education.
This spring, Oren Pizmony-Levy, Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education Studies, and Adjunct Assistant Professor Nancy Green Saraisky are conducting a follow-up survey of Opt Out activists. “We initiated this follow-up survey in order to understand whether and how the Opt Out movement has changed,” Pizmony-Levy said.
Three factors this year could affect the results of this year’s survey, he added. “The political environment is dramatically different now compared to two years ago. There are various shifts in how states and other policy makers have reacted to the Opt Out movement. And the leadership of some of the Opt Out movement has changed, for instance there are new national administrators. Taken together, these changes could affect the level of activism and who participates.”
This year’s online survey is about the same length as the 2016 original and includes most of the same questions to allow year-over-year comparisons and to spot trends. The current survey also contains questions about whether respondents have changed their levels of engagement with the Opt Out movement and how their activism may have changed. As Green Saraisky notes, “Education in the US is in a very different political moment than it was in 2016. We are interested to know if activists’ motivations and involvement with the movement have changed as well, and have added questions in the survey to probe this – for instance, about respondents’ levels of trust in the national education system.”
The first survey, which garnered 1,641 respondents, found that typical participants were white, well-educated and well off, and that they were worried about the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. They also voiced concerns about privacy rights and private testing corporations gaining access to detailed information about their children. Based on these responses, the new survey adds questions designed to determine whether today’s opt-out parents have those same concerns. Also, following interviews with Opt Out activists, the new survey asks parents what their kids do while their classmates are taking state tests.
The researchers are also interested in the extent to which the general public is aware of and support the Opt Out movement. In a related project in 2017, Pizmony-Levy and his team conducted a survey of more than 2000 Americans age 18-65. That study found that while most respondents were aware of the movement, less than one-third supported it. In addition, it found that most respondents misunderstood the motives of Opt Out parents.
The current 2018 National Survey on Opting Out is available here. The survey will be open for participation until May 17, 2018. Pizmony-Levy and Green Saraisky expect to report on the results in August 2018.