It’s the day before state testing, and the Dimpsey and Rasche kids gather for a playdate in Kirkland.
Pearl, a third-grader at Peter Kirk Elementary, won’t take the test. “If people didn’t know it was such a big test then I think they would actually do a better job,” she says.
Her mom agrees the anxiety isn’t worth it. But her friend Maya, in the other third-grade class at Peter Kirk, will take the exam. Life isn’t always easy, her mom says, which itself is an important lesson.
The test they’re taking – the Smarter Balanced Assessment – started being given earlier this spring to students in third grade through high school. Parents have been allowed to opt out of testing since the state started administering tests – remember the much-maligned Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL? But more parents are choosing to keep their kids home on test day.
The state argues that parents would miss out on useful information about how their kids are doing compared to other kids. And schools that consistently underperform could qualify for state or federal money. (Schools do not lose money if lots of kids opt out, however.)
But for Pearl's mom, Tanya Dimpsey, it’s not about the community as a whole or how her kid ranks – it’s a personal decision. She doesn’t want to see her daughter stress out unnecessarily – and she feels that it puts unfair pressure on teachers.
“My real concern is using the data against teachers without giving them the support,” she said. “The only way you really get student success is when you support the teachers.”
Meredith Rasche, Maya’s mom, listened intently from across the kitchen table as their kids poured out of the house to play on the trampoline. “I don’t disagree with you on that point,” Rasche said. Still, she has come to the opposite decision. Her third-grader will take the test.
“My daughter’s teacher has approached this in such a positive way,” Rasche said. “Her approach as a professional teacher has been a level of confidence, and confidence building in the class.”
Maya said she’s not really worried about the test.
For Rasche, opting out would be a form of undermining Maya’s teacher. “It would send the wrong message,” she said. “Even if it’s not going to be easy, there’s lots of things that aren’t easy. And so I want her to take it just for that reason.”
The mothers came to their decisions partly because of their daughters’ response to practice tests.
"If this is not the right test," Rasche asked her friend, "is there some testing that’s appropriate? Just to keep kids on track and keep some kind of accountability?”
“I know that standardized tests are necessary,” Dimpsey replied. “Because we want to ensure that all kids are learning.”
She continued: “But if I don’t say no, then I’m complicit in something that I firmly believe is wrong. So this is really a message to my politicians. It’s not about the schools, it’s not about my teacher.”
Rasche said it’s a big decision to pull a child from taking a test. “The parents are clearly doing it for strong reasons.”