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The Opt-Out Movement in New York: a Grassroots Movement to Eliminate High-Stakes Testing and Promote Whole Child Public Schooling

by Zhe Chen, David Hursh & Bob Lingard - 2021

Purpose: Over the last five years, approximately 50% of the students in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and 20% across New York State have opted out of the yearly standardized tests for third through eighth grade. This article focuses on two grassroots organizations, New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) and Long Island Opt Out (LIOO), the two parents who have been central to the organizationsí success, and the strategies and tactics that the two organizations have adopted to achieve such a high opt-out rate in New York.

Context: Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), third through eighth grade public school students have been required to take yearly standardized tests. The most recent version of the exams focused on assessing students, their teachers, and schools based on the Common Core State Standards. Many educators and parents have argued that the standards and assessments negatively affect student learning (Hursh, 2016; Ravitch, 2020; Tampio, 2018). In response, educators, parents, teachers, and students have lobbied and publicly testified in an effort to reduce the length of the exams, if not eliminate them (Hursh, 2016). However, the testimonies have had almost no impact on the policymakers. Consequently, some parents concluded that the only way to influence policymakers is to get enough students to opt out of the tests so that the scores were not valid and thus could no longer be used to compare students and teachers within and across schools for accountability purposes.

Research Design: This study is drawn from a qualitative research project in which we conducted interviews to understand how the opt-out movement developed and the strategies it adopted in relation to high-stakes testing in New York. The interviews with two parent leaders from NYSAPE and LIOO are the main data source for this article.

Findings: NYSAPE and LIOO can be characterized as real grassroots social movements in that all members have input in the goals and organizing strategies, and unpaid leaders emerge from the membership (McAlevey, 2016). Further, because the organizations lack permanent funding, they have to be innovative in using media. By motivating and empowering others and using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, they built a large network and a strong base so that they could influence policymakers and respond quickly at the local and state levels.

Conclusion: Their organizing strategies exemplified the participatory and grassroots nature of the new social movements as theorized by McAlevey (2016). The opt-out movement is pushing back not only against high-stakes testing but also against the larger neoliberal construction of parents as simply consumers of schooling, rather than as active, informed citizens. The movement also supports whole-child schooling.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 5, 2021, p. 1-22
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23687, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 10:10:10 AM

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About the Author
  • Zhe Chen
    University of Rochester
    E-mail Author
    ZHE CHEN is an international student from China pursuing doctoral studies in Teaching & Curriculum at the University of Rochester. She holds two masterís degrees, one in International Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the other in Education Policy from the University of Rochester. Her research interests focus on education equity and educational policy in China and the United States.
  • David Hursh
    University of Rochester
    E-mail Author
    DAVID HURSH, Ph.D., is a professor of education at the Warner School of Education, University of Rochester, New York. Over the last two decades, most of his research and writing has focused on how neoliberalism, by emphasizing markets, competition, and quantification, has undermined quality teaching and learning. He has also researched and written about sustainability and environmental health in the United States and Africa, which included a year-long appointment as a visiting scholar at Columbia Universityís Earth Institute.
  • Bob Lingard
    Australian Catholic University
    E-mail Author
    BOB LINGARD, Ph.D., is a professorial fellow in the Institute for Learning Sciences & Teacher Education at Australian Catholic University and an emeritus professor at The University of Queensland. He has published widely in the sociology of education, and his most recent books include Globalisation and Education (Routledge, 2021) and Globalizing Educational Accountabilities (Routledge, 2016). He is editor of the Routledge book series Key Ideas and Education, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and a former President of the Australian Association for Research in Education.
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