12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing

12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing

You’ve heard the stories. Teacher firings! School closures! Children being left behind! All based on the results of a one-day, one-size-fits-all test. Not only are these tests inaccurate and ineffective measures of school, teacher, and student success, they are also literally hurting children. This is no surprise to parents who are catching on to the fact that something is just not right when it comes to standardized tests.

Today more and more parents are waking up and uniting to opt out of a multi-billion dollar industry that is not only robbing our children of resources and valuable learning time, in many cases it is causing both physical and mental illness. For the sake of our children, it is time to take back the learning and join other pioneering parents that are opting children out of standardized tests in an effort to not only save our schools, but MOST importantly save our children.

Here are the 12 most logical reasons in support of opting your child out of standardized testing.

1. They don’t help your child

Despite the fact that schools have chosen to group young people by date of manufacture, the reality is that they are individuals that naturally develop at different rates. This does not mean they need to be labeled or classified as gifted or special. It just means that some young people are learning different things, at different times, and in different ways than others. A good teacher can help your child learn at a pace and with material that is right for him or her. A standardized test is not required or even helpful in providing this for your child.

2. They are poor measure of teacher or school effectiveness

In places like New York City teacher assessment is being heavily correlated to student test scores even though the test makers themselves say they are a poor measure of performance. The reality is that there are so many factors that contribute to a child’s test score that it is not only irresponsible to align a teacher performance to such a score but it is also detrimental to a child who may be forced to learn something before they are developmentally ready. Factors outside the teacher’s control heavily influence test performance including parental involvement, socio economic status, special needs the child may have, parent’s education level, the child’s developmental level, the parents speak English in the home, and more. Rather than assess teacher effectiveness or schools, standardized tests more accurately assess what children bring to the table — factors that are outside a teacher’s control.

“We are so test-obsessed that schools are being closed based on test scores, even when those test scores reflect that the schools have a heavy enrollment of very poor kids or heavy enrollment of children with disabilities and children with all kinds of other needs. We don’t look at the needs. We don’t evaluate the problems that need to be solved in that school. We just say “These are low scores. We have to close the school.” ~ Diane Ravitch

3. They make school dull

Not only is preparing for and assessing one’s ability to memorize and regurgitate boring, in the age of instant access to information, it is just no longer a very useful skill. When we make kids fill in bubbles and work to help them be good at that, we are robbing them of exciting learning opportunities to do things that they care about and matter.

4. They aren’t helping prepare children for success in the modern world

Standardized tests are completely disconnected from assessing what matters in the world in which we are supposed to be preparing young people. In the real world accessing technology and tapping into your personal learning network are essential skills necessary to effectively complete tasks. In the world of standardized testing, not only are these things not allowed, they are considered cheating. What’s worse, because standardized tests don’t allow technology or connecting with those in your personal learning network, they are often not allowed or their use is minimized in school. After all, success on a test does not require these real world tools and skills and in fact their use can distract students whose passions may go beyond multiple choice tests from filling in the correct dot.

Not only do these tests keep students stuck in the past, they are irrelevant to what is important or even how we’re assessed in the real world. Ask anyone who lives in the real world and you will find that successful professionals rarely measure success by tests in life. If school life is preparing children for real life, assessments should be designed according to the types of assessments that matter in real life.

5. They are a poor measure of student success

We rarely measure success in real life through obsessively testing individuals. We measure success through authentic means. The same should and could hold true for young people. Learning is not effectively measured through testing. Learning gain can only be measured through authentic forms of assessment, and the more individualised these are, the better. This includes observation, looking at student work,ePortfolios, Personal Success Plans, and performance-based assessment. Assessments such as these involve direct evaluation of student effort on real learning. This in turn provides useful material for teachers, parents, the community and the government.

6. They don’t measure what’s important for student achievement.

Everyone knows that filling in bubbles is not an effective way to adequately measure knowledge or assess what people can do when it comes to tasks needed for real-world success. Unfortunately, in the mass-production model of school, that doesn’t matter. It is the easiest way to measure a huge number of students. What’s even more interesting is that in many states it is well known that tests don’t measure what is important. In fact if you visit this site from PBS you’ll discover that in many states not only do standardized tests not measure what is important, they are also not even aligned to the standards.

7. They are a horrific waste of money

While testing around the country had been on the rise for decades, No Child Left Behind tripled it. “The amount of testing that was being done mushroomed,” says Kathy Mickey, a senior education analyst at Simba Information. “Every state had new contracts. There was a lot of spending.” The companies that create and score tests saw profits skyrocket. In 2009, K-12 testing was estimated to be a $2.7 billion industry. [source]

Instead of spending billions of dollars on funding testing this money could go toward providing resources for children or lowering class size. Let the teachers do what they were trained to do — teach and assess. Keep big business out of the equation. Keep the billions of dollars out of the pockets of publishers and let it remain in the classroom.

8. They cause anxiety and stress

Esther Bolton, a former teacher of more than a decade from Europe and member Parents and Kids Against Standardized Tests says she’s never seen anything like this. She explained that, “Standardized tests in England were every three years and always marked by teachers. I lived and taught in Switzerland too. No standardized tests at all. We just used continual assessment done by the teachers.” She says, “Here in the states I’ve seen the stress and anxiety resulting from tests in my own kids and the children of friends. One child threw up all over their test paper at my child’s school because they were in such a state. Another child was in tears two nights ago as the teacher has started counting down till test week. My own son has reading difficulties. He reads very slowly and has an IEP. Most children completed the reading test in an hour. He took two hours. All the children had to wait for him putting him in a horribly stressful and embarrassing position.”

9. They can make your child sick

Parents like Gretchen Hererra know all too well how sick standardized testing can make young people. Despite the fact that she had a doctor’s note warning the school that testing would make her child sick, the school forced her son to take the test or be kicked out of school. True to the doctor’s warning, her son Anthony came in for the test and got very ill, having to be rushed to the doctor’s office. Not wanting to subject her child to severe illness, Ms. Hererra opted her son out of the test with a doctor’s note. Valuing test scores more than a child’s well-being, the school kicked Anthony out. He is now enjoying a more peaceful, happy and productive life without school.

10. They are not helpful to teachers

Standardized tests are not designed to help teachers. They provide little information beyond a single number. Educators are provided with extensive training and professional development on effective assessment measures. Filling in someone else’s multiple choice test is not among the most effective means to assess and guide a student. Knowing how a child’s strengths, learning style, how they think, etc are not considered in such tests but are necessary for effectively supporting student learning.

11. Tech savvy students are penalized

Open-ended Language Arts items that require students to generate responses using paper and pencil severely underestimate the achievement of students accustomed to writing using a computer. Combining the effects found in this study with those found in a prior study, this article estimates that students accustomed to writing using a computer under-perform on the standardized Language Arts test by four to eight points on an eighty point scale. This article concludes by recommending that state testing programs that employ open-ended items in Language Arts provide students with the option of composing responses on paper or on computer. [Source: Effects of Computer Versus Paper Administration of a State-Mandated Writing Assessment. Read the results of the study here.]

12. They are unfair to children with special needs and children whose first language is not English

Most citizens who are concerned about education have heard about the incredible success Finland has had with its educational system. This has been measured in part by scores on an international test. One huge difference though between a place like Finland and the United States is that they have few students who are being tested in their non-native language. In the United States however, students are tested in English regardless of whether this is their native language. As a result, students are being inaccurately assessed because of a language barrier rather than lack of knowledge.

Parents across the nation are fed up with a government that is sucking data out of our children like a vampire needing their blood to survive. For many the jig is up. Parents have caught on to the fact that not only does all this ineffective, inaccurate, and outdated testing and prepping do nothing to help their children, but the reality is that it is harming them. Schools are literally turning parent’s once vibrant, playful, smart, and creative young treasures into student zombies who must memorize, regurgitate, and do what they’re told.

Fortunately, the social-media marketplace of the 21st century does not have to apply solely to consumer outrage against banks and phone companies. Parents can come together to stand up and unite against the government’s attempt to control their children, by getting and sharing information and uniting with others to opt out of testing. If this applies to you, there are two things you can do now to get started:

Seek more information: Opt Out of Standardized State Tests Site
With the help of wonderful students, educators, and parents, there is an “Opt Out of State Standardized Tests” site where anyone can find and contribute information as they find it. Join here.

Join your state’s Opt Out of Standardized State Test Group
Concerned educators and parents have come together to create brand-new, easy-to-find, state-by-state groups on Facebook where parents, educators, and anyone who cares, can come together to mobilize and take back control of their children’s freedom to learn. You can join others interested in opting out in your state in two ways:

1) Type in the search: Opt out of State Standardized Tests — Your State i.e. Opt Out of State Standardized Tests – Ohio
2) Go to the page url: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutYourState i.e. https://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutOhio

As more and more parents get on board and take back control of what is best for their children, new possibilities will arise. Imagine a learning environment without unnecessary testing…

What could your child accomplish when the billions of wasted testing dollars are redirected toward students?

When passion, not just tests, can drive the learning, what learning might start to take shape in our schools and communities across our nation?

What will happen when we give young people the freedom to learn, explore, discover and create in ways that go far beyond the memorization and regurgitation of facts onto bubble sheets?

What will young people do once they have an opportunity to step up and take back ownership of their learning?

When learning is customized to the child rather than standardized to the system, exciting possibilities await. What do you think?

Featured image courtesy of timlewisnm via Creative Commons.

Lisa Nielsen

Lisa Nielsen has spent more than a decade working in various capacities in the public school system as an administrator and teacher to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award winning blog TheInnovativeEducator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, MindShift, Leading & Learning. She is the author of the book Teaching Generation Text TeachingGenerationText.com, and has published. The Teenager’s Guide to Opting Out of School For Success, The Working Home Educator’s Guide to Success, and Fix The School, Not The Child.

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Given that public schools are funded by the public and accountable to the public, then the public must be kept informed as to how those schools are performing. Standardized tests are one way to do this. No matter how legitimate the complaints about them are, I don't see anyone offering real alternatives. Perhaps the tests are a symptom of a larger problem: public schoos themselves. From the evidence I see, public schools in general are failing and have been failing for quite some time. If you want to eliminate standardized tests, then you need to seriously consider eliminating the publc school model that makes them necessary. But that is an entirely different discussion.... 


Great post. To help support these opinions check my summary of "The Myths of Standardized Tests" at http://bit.ly/lJLUNR. Thanks for this great post.

PaulBiedermann moderator

Thanks for this honest and very thought-provoking post, @LisaVelmerNielsen .


I’ve always hated standardized tests, even more now as a parent. It is difficult to watch the way teachers are forced to spend so much class time teaching to the test, as public education tries its best to turn our children into robots. And is the goal really meant to educate and measure the students, or is it more about the grade the school will get?


I’m all for some standards on how to fairly and equitably measure our children and schools, but there must be a better way — one that lets teachers be teachers, using their talents to educate and inspire a lifelong love of learning.


The issues I have with standardized testing are that a) we know that it doesn't reliably measure anything b) It is biased c)it is being tied to teacher assessment D)school funding is also tied to performance 


It just does not add up. That is why I have been learning more about the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and their work in education. They are doing research into incentives that can help teacher performance...that are tied to what they do in the classroom not arbitrary test scores. 





Our highschool valedictorian who had a 4.0 average did terribly on her SATs. That was years ago when they really mattered. It hurt her incredibly in college applications.  She is Vietnamese and English was a 2nd language... I am sure that THAT impacted her success.  She is now a successful doctor... I stopped trusting them back then, in 1986.

Cathy in Cali
Cathy in Cali


Your comments indicate to me that you don't know all that much about learning (cognitive science), or about standardized tests, or both. These arguments are not in the least bogus. The major argument against the tests isn't that they can be stressful--heck, the behind-the-wheel driving test can be stressful, but no one is arguing that we should do away with it! The major arguments presented here and many, many "elsewhere"s is that they don't measure learning, they don't even attempt to measure the most important kinds of knowledge and thinking skills, and at best they only provide a glimpse of what a child can do with the particular sort of test items on one particular day. Whether low test scores are caused by anxiety or illness, poor teaching or poor diet, or any of a bajillion other causes, is completely up in the air--but since the test items given are of very limited use in predicting success or assessing programs, who cares? Added to this complete lack of usefulness for any purpose whatsoever, the facts that the tests are taking up way too much time and money, are making school much more stilted and boring (because, with funding and even salaries hinging on test scores, of course a lot of time is spent on test-prep) and especially that many kids get stressed out by testing--well, if there is no good reason for the tests AND they cause all this havoc, let's get rid of them.I mentioned the driving test. That, it seems to me, is a pretty good assessment. Certainly not perfect, but: (1) it's hard to cheat when you are demonstrating ability by performing a skill, (2) the public certainly has good reason to require people to demonstrate such ability before driving, and (3) scores are not ranks that are published and used to compare drivers or driving schools. People pass and get their licences or fail and have to try again. People can arrange to take the driving test whenever they are ready (after the age requirement), and whenever they want to have the privilege of driving. Adults who never take the driving test and therefore never become licensed drivers are not punished or shamed. (Unless, of course, they get caught driving without a license, but that has nothing to do with skill assessment.)Using the driver's test as a comparison point, think about standardized tests. Is it important to the public that everybody should be able to point out a noun in a sentence? Probably not. Are children allowed to take the tests when they feel ready? No. How are scores used? -- It turns out that scores are used to rank kids and schools, to label them winners and losers, and to convince them that it is either their fault ("I'm dumb," "I'm smart") or the schools' fault (this is a "failing school"). Instead of assessing ranks, comparing, labeling -- how about spending time to actually help kids learn stuff??? 


Diogenes, you said, "to complete 3rd grade, students must be able to x, y, z." But there is no reason to have such requirements! I homeschooled my kids, and they learned to read independently at vastly different ages. They learned all kinds of important skills and knowledge at very different times and in very different ways. But the "end result" (there really is no end, because of course people learn all their lives) at age 18 was, in all three cases, very interested, interesting, intelligent, knowledgeable people who follow their passions, work hard, and achieve. Two have graduated from universities with honors, one going on for an advanced degree. But at third grade they probably would have "failed" a standardized test in almost every subject (especially the kids who didn't know how to read then--but read wonderfully well now, thank you very much!). Now that my kids are grown, I teach writing to other people's kids. There is no need to grade or test or rank or score them. We write, and we read aloud the writings and critique them, and then we write some more. The older kids and the kids who read a lot tend to write more, more powerfully, more clearly--but the idea in my class (which combines kids from grade 3 to grade 12) is, no matter where you are, we are going to help you move forward. No matter how well or how poorly you write, you will improve, and we will help you improve. (I say "we" because critiques from other students are as helpful as those I make.) And I'm not talking theory, I'm talking about real kids in the real world.By the way, my pot shot about Diogenes not knowing much about cognitive science is due to the fact that stress and anxiety diminish learning. Playfulness encourages learning. To make schools into learning centers instead of ranking centers, throw out the tests and bring in all sorts of art materials, musical instruments, computers, boardgames, cards, and videogames.


Texas Parents
Texas Parents

Excellent, thoughtful and comprehensive arguments for opting our kids out these wasteful tests!  Great work, Lisa.


Although standardized testing does need to be examined for effectiveness, most of the reasons you list here for skipping them are bogus. Stress happens in the real world. Not every job allows a student access to a computer to type information; some things will need to be hand-written (sometimes while under stress). There are some things that people do need to know themselves, instead of relying on the internet to give them the answers (and we all know how accurate the internet is). People may learn at different rates, but we do need some method of assessing when they have met a standard (i.e., to complete 3rd grade, students must be able to x, y, z). Individualizing the tests to determine if standards are met is not practicle and leaves open all sorts of claims (and lawsuits) of unequal treatment.The real world you live in and the one I live in must be two different places. The one I live in expects people to be able to do their job and meet standards of performance, regardless of if they feel stress or came from a less than perfect home.


Thanks @PaulBiedermann 

There are certainly better ways to assess.  Most teachers are very proficient in assessment.  The best ones are authentic and involve no tests.


@diogenes Yes. Stress happens in the real world, but for real, not manufactured, reasons. Do we really need to unnecessarily inflict stress upon children?


As far as what every job does or doesn’t do, people choose their jobs and if computer access is important to them there are plenty such jobs to choose from.


As far as the very few things that still require handwriting, that is not a skill that is taught through standardized tests. Kids can learn to write by hand but they don't need to be forced to take a test to learn how.  


Regarding “relying” on the internet... we rely on the tools in our world. If the internet is an available tool, great. When it’s not available people can learn what is necessary when that is the case. There are still no tests required for that to occur.  


You share that we need a way of assessing children. There are many ways to assess children. In fact educators spend years in school studying assessment. The best assessments do NOT involve tests.  They involved teachers and students who know how to look at and analyze work. I live in a world that expects people to do their job and meet standards of performance and I have NEVER been forced to take a test to demonstrate my competence. This is not the way most of us are assessed in the real world.