Many More Philly Students Are Opting Out of State Exams

486 students have opted out of testing this year. Only 20 did last year. The opt-out movement is growing exponentially.

It would appear the opt-out movement has momentum: Philadelphia School District officials said this week that the families of 486 students in grades 3 through 8 have asked to be excused from taking standardized tests — a dramatic increase over the mere 20 who opted out last year.

That growth is “remarkable,” said Kelley Collings, a teacher and activist with the Caucus of Working Educators who has helped lead efforts to encourage Philadelphia parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

“The numbers are still growing,” she said via email. “As more parents and students understand they have the right to opt out, word is spreading.”

Students in grades 3 through 8 are taking the Pennsylvania Standardized System of Assessment tests this week. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education said today her department would not have statewide data on opt-outs available until July, but that about 1,000 students across the state opted out last year.

The movement doesn’t appear to be limited to Philadelphia. NewsWorks reports that roughly 200 students in the Lower Merion district have also opted out.

The reasons for opposition can vary; in richer districts like Lower Merion and Haddon and Moorestown townships, parents express concerns about student stress and the amount of class time devoted to test prep. In poorer districts like Philly, there are concerns that the scores will be unfairly used in an effort to close down the city’s struggling public schools.

Opt-out advocates have conducted teach-ins and rallies, and even set up a website to tell their stories. Collings said another round of campaigning is planned as the Keystone Exams, held May 13th through May 27th, approach.

“As with any movement, once the concrete possibility of change becomes apparent, once people see the possibility of winning, momentum takes off,” Collings said. “That’s what we are witnessing: The exponential growth of the Philly opt-out movement.”

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.