In recent years, the opting out movement has taken hold in public schools. I would like to ask the question, why only recently? State testing has been a part of the New York public school experience since I started Progressive School in 1985. It has never inspired children. It has always driven instruction. It has always hampered teacher creativity and responsiveness to students’ needs. It has always reduced childhood’s potential to a narrow set of numbers. It has always created an atmosphere of pressure.

Yes it is true that the tests have gotten worse, the pressure greater, and the creativity more stifled. But from the outside, what I noticed was a sea-change in sentiment once teachers’ performance evaluations were linked to scores. Truly a bad idea, but why weren’t teachers championing students rights and needs before that happened?

Assuming most of my readers are Progressive School parents, I want you to know that opting out means SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT at our school.

Progressive School has opted out of state curriculum requirements and state testing policies since its founding. By enrolling your child in our school, you have already opted out of the system. Your district loses student allotment reimbursements from the state, and has to support your decision through bussing, texbooks, and health screening. You have sent them and Albany a message that you don’t support the status quo of education in our public schools.

We don’t prepare children for tests, and we don’t terrorize them. We don’t teach specific material all year just for the sake getting a score. Our teachers are not under pressure and are free to create and respond to children’s needs. We don’t make decisions based on the tests, and they don’t predict the future nearly as well as our report cards. You aren’t sending us any kind of message by opting out.

That being said, we do not recommend letting your child miss the tests. Since everything bad about the testing experience, its influence and its aftermath has been removed at Progressive School, the only thing that is left are its benefits. Like it or not, the world is full of tests–for college, for jobs, for driving, you name it! It is not a bad idea for children to practice them from time to time. It helps them to learn how to deal with memory and anxiety issues, how to develop strategies for completing tests, and how to get comfortable with that form of assessment.

Opting out in public school sends a political message to Albany. It helps the fight for improved learning conditions in public school. Enrolling your child at Progressive School aleady accomplishes all that and more! Opting out at Progressive School only deprives your child of a learning experience. It doesn’t make any statement to us, and it reduces our state reimbursement. The worst of it is that lately is becoming the child’s decision, and is being used as a bargaining chip (I kid you not). For example, this past year one child was given the choice to opt out of math or english as a birthday present. What message does that send about learning, discipline, and trying your best?

In the end, we will honor an opt out request if it comes from a parent before the tests start. Students who are not taking the test will experience similar conditions to their classmates: a silent period for the duration of the test, with reading and writing activities permitted.