Just Say No to Standardized Tests: Why and How to Opt Out

The Biden Administration’s decision to require the administration of federally mandated standardized exams this year contradicts the judgement of parents, educators, and community leaders. At least 10 states had already prepared test waiver requests, both major teacher unions oppose the exams, and polls showed that a majority of parents wanted tests suspended.

Claiming that assessment without accountability — testing without federal consequences — is some sort of “compromise” is not sufficient. Scores from exams administered during a pandemic are certain to be inaccurate and unfair. Worse, they are still likely to be misused to rate schools and teachers, rather than to help students.

FairTest is already working with families and grassroots groups across the nation to build a large, powerful opt-out movement in Spring 2021: Testing is not teaching.

Why opt out? By opting out, you can….

  • Send the message that school time should be used for teaching and learning, not testing and test prep. The average student takes 112 tests between kindergarten and 12th grade, stealing precious time that could be used for in-depth, engaging learning. Schools focus on the demands of the tests, instead of the needs of the students.
  • Protest harmful uses of standardized exams.These tests are frequently used in ways that do not reflect the abilities of students of color, English language learners, children with disabilities, and low-income youth. Many others with test anxiety do not test well.
  • Demand better ways to assess and promote student learning. Standardized tests measure little of what parents and others want children to learn and experience in schools. They do not measure creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership or empathy. Many schools narrow their focus to the tested subjects of math and reading. Other important subjects are sidelined. Opting out calls for better assessment models. FairTest has fact sheets, a report and other materials on performance assessment and other alternatives.
  • Prevent test results from being used to harm students, teachers and schools. Increasingly, test results are used to label schools “underperforming” or “failing.” Many are then shut down or turned over to private operators. Opting out helps block the use of test results as weapons of destruction.
  • Protect your child, a teacher, a school or a district from the harm of testing overuse and misuse. One parent opting out can protect her own child from test abuse.Many parents opting out together send a unified message that students’ time should be spent learning, not filling in bubbles on a test sheet. Urban parents can opt out to demand an end to school closures based on test scores and protest how testing fuels the school-to-prison pipeline. Suburban parents can do so to push for better use of classroom time and to show solidarity with urban parents. Students, parents and teachers can unite to stop the malpractice of using student test scores to evaluate educators.

How to Opt Out

  • What should parents do to refuse testing for their child? Send the principal a letter saying you don’t want your child to take the tests. It could be as basic as: “I want to let you know we do not want our child, [name], to take part in the [name the standardized exam] this year. Please arrange for [him or her] to have a productive educational experience during the testing period.”Some states or districts have specific forms. Eight states have laws that allow opting out; no states have laws prohibiting it.

Note: The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes parents’ right to refuse testing in states or districts with opt-out laws. It requires districts to inform parents of state law and policy regarding test participation.It also mandates 95% test participation, but leaves it up to each state to decide what to do if a school or district does not reach 95%. No school or district has ever lost federal funding because of opt outs. Read our “WhyYou Can Boycott Standardized Tests without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School” fact sheet at Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School (Updated February 2018).

Helpful Opt-Out Resources

Just Say No to Standardized Tests:

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Federal_law_related_to_opting_out_-final.pdf 178.95 KB
Just-Say-No-to-the-Test.pdf 925.26 KB