Families Exercise Right to Opt Out

Local parents explain their decision to pull their children from testing

By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff

Reflecting a national trend of parents opting students out of standardized testing, some West Bend parents followed suit during the recent Badger and Aspire tests given in the West Bend School District.

According to Al Pauli, West Bend’s chief academic officer, a total of 52 students in grades 3-10 were opted out by their parents for state testing this year.

Among those parents were Melissa Santamaria, who opted out her sixth and eighth grade daughters; Michael Kieser, who opted out his tenth grade daughter; and Kristin Michaelson, who opted out her twin sixth grade sons.

Their motives for exercising the right to opt out varied.

“Given the fact that it was within a couple of weeks before the AP testing started, and she is going to take two AP tests, I did not think it was necessarily wise to be taking a couple of days of class to test that close to AP testing,” Kieser said.

Kieser is a social studies teacher at East High School and notes a meeting in which staff was reminded that parents have the legal ability to opt students out of state standardized testing. “Being on the inside helped me to have information to know that [opting out] was an option,” Kieser said.

Michaelson says she is not against standardized testing. “I think it’s good to have data points to compare, so I’m fine with that. I just felt like it was too much, and putting too much pressure on my kids. They’re in sixth grade, why are they having to feel so much pressure about standardized tests,” Michaelson said.

Santamaria also expressed concern about anxiety in her child. “My daughter, I was going through the drive-through at Culver’s, she was talking about her day, they just finished I think it was EOCA testing, and she said ‘yeah in a couple more weeks we have more testing and mom I’m so stressed out, this makes me feel nervous,'” Santamaria said. Santamaria’s daughter had also began pulling out her eyebrows as a result of stress.

“I just felt like it was too much, and putting too much pressure on my kids.”
– Kristin Michaelson, parent

For Michaelson, the decision to opt her children out of testing was not an impulsive response. “It was a hard decision, I spent a lot of time going through things with my husband and friends because I did not want anything I did to have a negative impact on anyone,” Michaelson said

Michaelson recalled letters sent home to parents surrounding test days advising parents to ensure that their children eat well and get plenty of sleep to prepare for tests. Michaelson questions why this healthy lifestyle is emphasized only on test days and not every day.

Santamaria began to research the Badger Exam after the conversation with her daughter in the car. She says that the more she found out about the Badger Exam, the more she became “anti-Badger Exam.”

“I would rather have the teachers teach to learn, not so my child can do well on a test,” Santamaria said. “After seeing my daughter so stressed out, I know what is best for my child, and I was not going to put my child through that.”

Santamaria also highlighted test results influencing teachers’ salaries as a motive. “I didn’t like that all the stress that my child had coming would be coming from a teacher that obviously wants to do well. I trust my child’s teachers to know what my child’s strengths and weaknesses are as a student, and I also trust that they know how to get the best out of them and I didn’t want to devalue them, so I decided not to support this Badger Exam,” Santamaria said.

The Badger Exam is administered to students in Wisconsin in grades 3-8 within the last eight weeks of the school year in order to measure academic growth. The tests cover English language arts and math and require approximately four hours for all sections. The Badger Exam is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium adopted by Wisconsin in 2010, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website.

The Aspire test is an assessment of a student’s college/career readiness through testing in English, math, reading, science, and writing, according to the ACT website. The Aspire test was administered to freshmen and sophomores at the West Bend High Schools between April 30 and May 3.

As freshman principal, Dave Talma has become the West Bend high schools’ unofficial leader of matters of standardized testing.

Talma says that the official legislation by the state requires parents to contact the building principal in order to opt a student out of standardized testing. Originally all requests were sent to Bill Greymont, head principal, but eventually everything was redirected to Talma.

A list was compiled in Google Docs by building secretaries and Talma pulled each student out of class on testing days in order to account for all untested students.

Talma says in recent years the number of students opting out of testing has absolutely increased. Talma recalled that previously 95% of students were required to take the WKCE state test or the school district would be penalized. There is still an expectation of students to take the test, but the national opt out movement that parents have a right to is gaining momentum, according to Talma.

“The bigger picture purpose of [testing] is that there are categories of kids that underperform. Minority students, kids that live in poverty, and kids with special needs, they traditionally underperform and this is a way to help see which schools are focusing on those groups and making sure that they catch up,” Talma said.

“Frankly, I completely understand [the opt out decision]. I received a lot of notes saying, ‘I would rather have my student in class learning material than taking this test.’ I completely understand that,” Talma said.

When asked about the administration’s view on opting students out, Talma said, “I can’t answer that question because there are different views. Mr. Neitzke, Mr. Pauli, Mr. Greymont, me, there are different views, and I’m not sure I can give an accurate view.”

Neitzke is the district superintendent.

Santamaria has a son with special needs whom she has always opted out of standardized testing. She was always aware of her ability to opt her children out.

Last spring, Michaelson and her friends were discussing Common Core and what policy changes a new school year would bring. A friend had explored opting out as an option, and had already opted her children out. Michaelson then decided to pull her children from testing.

Michaelson also calls for more information on what exactly is being tested and where the data is sent after the bubbles are filled in.

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