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Parents, educators, students contemplate opt-out strategy for standardized tests

DENVER — A growing movement of parents and educators are standing up to standardized testing nationwide, and this weekend they meet in Denver to come up with a plan to change the educational system.

Inside the ballroom of the Denver Athletic Club, a group of parents, educators and a handful of students spent the weekend quietly plotting what they hope is a revolution.

“(We are looking at) how to set forth a plan of action that will take down corporate education reform in Colorado,” said Peggy Robertson, one of the founders of United Opt Out National. “And we’re hoping that this model can be used in other states across the country.”

For four years, United Opt Out National has offered state-by-state models for parents looking to opt-out of standardized testing. In many states, opting out could often lead to confrontations, pitting a parent’s rights against a school’s obligation to enforce state testing laws.

Now, with the opt-out movement gaining momentum in response to national reform efforts like the Common Core, leaders are looking to advance beyond protesting the tests. They are focused on changing policy.

The first-of-its-kind conference in Denver, brought in experts and activists from across the country.

Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard and author of “Finnish Lesson: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?,” was among the many who advocated for a new system that relies less on standardized tests.

“There’s no successful education system in the world that has built its success on competition and standardized testing,” Sahlberg said. “My question often is, if the United States or Colorado is going to be successful with this, it’s going to be the first time in the universe when it happens.”

But the Colorado Department of Education, many education reformers and advocacy groups argued that opting out doesn’t solve anything.

“If you start having certain subsets of students not participate in the tests, you’re not really getting the whole picture,” said Reilly Pharo with the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Pharo said the Colorado Children’s Campaign uses testing data to help its mission to advocate on behalf of kids. She added that it helps identify issues with schools and teachers, as well as direct money and resources where they are needed most.

“For me, if we didn’t have that data at the end of the year, that problem wouldn’t go away, we would just be ignoring it,” Pharo said.

Peggy Robertson, who is an educator in Aurora Public Schools, said that’s what she and other teachers are there for.

“We know how these kids are doing in schools,” Robertson said. “We don’t need those test scores to tell us that. What we do need is authentic assessment, and what’s sad is that they’ve robbed our teachers of our autonomy.”

As a student who attended the conference, Alex Kacsh said the tests don’t identify the problem because he believes they are the problem.

“There is this serious force on students, when it comes to testing, that if you don’t do well you’re going to lose your teacher and you’re going to lose your school,” Kacsh said.

Chalkbeat Colorado has been following the United Opt Out National Conference throughout the weekend.

For a detailed account, visit Chalkbeat,org.