A “Brief and Wonderous” History of the Opt Out Movement


2001: Students in Scarsdale boycott the state’s eighth-grade tests. Twenty-eight schools in New York are part of a growing movement of schools across the country that have protested the use of standardized testing, saying it forces them to abandon creative and stimulating lessons to focus on material in the tests.

2010: Arne Duncan was given an honor at Harvard. Citizens for Public Schools, Fair Test, Liza Womack and her Mom organized a protest at Harvard Square, Ruth Rodriguez (now a United Opt Out administrator)  was invited to speak at the rally, Nancy Carlsson Paige, Deb Meier and many others were also speakers. Then they all went with signs to the site as people were leaving from the event.

2010: Jesse Turner walked from CT to DC for the first time and participated in an event at American University (planned by Bess Altwerger and Vivian Vasquez). Literacy scholars from Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking (CELT) including Jesse, Rick Meyer, Bess and others created an anti standardized testing movement, emerging out of a whole language philosophy which had been publishing anti testing research since the late 1970’s.  During the American University event they discussed an idea ignited previously by Laurie Murphy and Chris Janotta who created a FB page called “The Million Teacher March.” From this, Save Our Schools March was born.

July 2011: Bess Altwerger (now a Howard County MD school board member and professor emeritus) along with other known Opt Out organizers such as nationally board certified teacher Ceresta Smith from Florida and Laurie Murphy (founding United Opt Out administrator) and Denisha Jones (current UOO admin and BATS organizer) as well as Anthony Cody (know at the time for his Letters to Obama movement) and is now one of the creators of NPE (with Diane Ravitch and Robin Hiller). Rosemarie Jensen (a current UOO admin), Ruth Rodriguez (current UOO admin and board member for SOS), Elizabeth Lynch (UOO leader) and Morna McDermott were also at SOS.

There was a strong Long Island contingency represented at the SOS march including Elizabeth Lynch (a current UOO leader).

Ceresta was one of the first parents to refuse the tests for her daughter back in 2010. This is important to note as one of the stereotypes of the Opt Out movement is that it is white middle class moms. Yet in the beginning one of the first opt out voices was a parent and teacher of color down in Florida.

Following on the heels of SOS, United Opt Out was born when Peggy Robertson reached out to Tim Slekar-another testing refuser in 2010, Morna McDermott, Shaun Johnson, Laurie Murphy and Ceresta Smith to form the organization. The first national network specifically dedicated to opting out  is created.

In August 2011 United Opt Out created a Facebook site, a website with 50 opt out guides, and a variety of parent resources and an email to help walk parents through opt out problems.

From United Opt Out, many state level opt out groups were born. Some grew tremendously to national attention such as Opt Out Long Island and Opt Out Orlando (Becky Smith, one of the founding organizers met Ceresta Smith at SOS who also lives in FL, and attended Occupy the DOE 2012).

December 2011 The shot (in the form of a letter from Long Island principals) is heard all over the country and sparks a flame.

March 2012  the first Occupy the US Dept of Education is organized by United Opt Out. This is the first time the words “Bad Ass Teachers Association” are uttered by Mark Naison. People in attendance loved it. What was a clever half serious phrase then in following years blossomed into its own powerful national teacher’s organization (p.s. NOT to associated with TFA’s bullshit “Badass” women’s association).

March 2013 United Opt Out Occupy the DOE 2.0 in Washington DC

2013: Teachers from the Seattle area, led by Jesse Hagopian, refuse en mass to administer the standardized tests.

April 2014: United Opt Out in Denver CO. The UOO website is hacked and destroyed.

April 2015: United Opt Out in Fort Lauderdale FL.  Michael Pena joins us as our newest United Opt Out administrator following this event.

Finally a nod must be given to those individuals and groups that have preceded ALL of this–  Fair Test has been around for thirty years, and education advocates such as Susan Ohanian, Ira Shor, Henry Giroux and Stephen Krashen  all of whom (with so many others) have been researching and writing about the problems with standardized testing for decades, and whose research has been critical to building the opt out movement.

Thank you Ceresta for sharing these historical links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/educating-for-democracy-s_1… , http://www.pegwithpen.com/…/opting-out-of-state-test-you-ca…, http://www.cnn.com/2011/…/03/20/pennsylvania.school.testing/ , http://video.foxnews.com/…/parents-take-stand-against-sta…/…

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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