April 24, 2015

A mother who opts her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of dismal underachievement.

I'm "reading" the photograph that accompanies a NYT article, "Only Alternative for Some Students Sitting Out Standardized Tests: Do Nothing." The article is ostensibly about the "sit and stare" policy at some schools, which makes kids who opt out sit at their desks with nothing at all to do. You can see the point of the policy: to create pressure not to opt out. That policy seems to be failing because the opters-out were able to make an issue out of the "sit and stare" policy. The idea was to undercut them, not empower them. Unintended consequences. Time for a new policy. The new policy is: Let the kids who don't take the tests leave the classroom and go to the library to do other things.
“They’re being snarky,” Mr. Burns said of some students who refused the test. Saying, ‘Ha-ha, I don’t have to take the test!’ as they’re leaving the room. Or ‘Good luck on the test!’ in that derogatory tone.
Oh, no! The new policy also creates opportunities for those whose power was supposed to be undercut. How can we get the non-test-takers to leave the room without expressing any indication that they're pleased to get out? You can't, of course. How dare they manifest snark? Mr. Burns is, presumably, hoping to iron out any flashes of emotion in the rebel kids. The kids who stay in the room and take the tests must not see that the alternative is desirable.

Anyway, I'm fascinated by the picture they chose to put at the top of the article. It has the caption: "Angie Carnright made shirts for her son Blake, a fifth grader in upstate New York, to wear on test days. They say: 'I refuse NYS Tests. Score Me 999,' the code indicating a student opted out." I'm sure there were many alternative photographs in which the boy showed off the T-shirt, but in this one, he's sitting on the porch step, leaned over, arms crossed, hiding the words on the shirt. I thought that was odd, and it drew me into all the details in the photograph and how it was framed. The mother is sitting next to him, with a complacently smug look on her face. I'll refrain from commenting on her clothes, her hair, and her lack of makeup. The picture seems deliberately framed to draw our eyes to the dilapidated wood of the porch and the mishmash of junk — a trash can, a snow shovel, a pair of boots (not upright or aligned), and...



... what is that? Poop on a scoop?! That's right at the edge of the photograph, and as a framer and cropper of photographs myself, I am virtually certain that edge was chosen. As a reader of journalism, including journalistic photographs, I'm going to opine that the picture expresses an editorial opinion: A mother who opts her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of dismal underachievement.

IN THE COMMENTS: sydney said:
My favorite New York Times photo editorializing. The photos completely undercut the premise of the whole article which was from the point of view of the rich woman who was buying the baby, er, renting the womb.
Amazing. Porches loom large there too.

65 comments:

Terry said...

A mother who does not opt her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of fruitless overachievement."

surfed said...

I have sat there behind my teacher desk and watched, over the years, numerous students "Christmas tree" those tests. Done in three minutes max. I always gave them the advice that if Christmas treeing choose b or c.

MadisonMan said...

Were I the parent opting the kid out of testing, I'd yank them from school and do something interesting with them. That's a better option than sitting and staring.

I'm not that opposed to testing, FWIW. Students do have to learn how to take tests, after all, as it is part of any educational experience. The more tests they can take, and learn how to take them successfully, the better. Up to a point, I guess.

Sean Gleeson said...

It looks like a cat litter scoop, the sieve-like kind with slots to let the clean litter fall back into the box, while retaining clumps of refuse. But I do not think that is poop currently resting in it. It looks to me like a fallen leaf. And this being an outdoor shot, a leaf is certainly likely.

surfed said...

Addendum - some "students" would create semi-elaborate art from the bubbling in process of Christmas treeing standardized tests - faces, designs, etc. Some quite good.

surfed said...

Further addendum - How can I ever forget the art of LeCharles who would invariably bubble in a penis or penises of varying sizes and dimensions. His thoughts on the entire process.

Expat(ish) said...

Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer were unavailable for comment.

-XC

Ann Althouse said...

" But I do not think that is poop currently resting in it. It looks to me like a fallen leaf. And this being an outdoor shot, a leaf is certainly likely."

It is a leaf. I'm only saying that in the context of the whole picture (which I hope everyone will examine), it contributes to the overall message: squalor, incompetence, obliviousness... and this lady is pleased with it. She's failing to get her home in order and she's passing this complacency about disorder along to her son.

Eustace Chilke said...

I reckon it's a leaf. That makes it a yard implement. That mother is condemning her son to a lifetime of torturous tedium doing yard work with laughably inefficient tools. They probably use only toothbrushes to clean the floor, too. Like Gomer Pyle. Now we know what Gomer's mother was like. The NYT; levels within levels.

Capt. Schmoe said...

There are many similarities in composing photographs and in composing painters.

One key difference is that painters start with a blank canvas and decide what to add to the canvas, photographers start with a visual scene and decide what to take out. In other words, how close in to get in order to remove unnecessary items from the image.

Whoever selected the image for the article absolutely made a conscious decision to leave the mystery scoop in, as well as the other items.

The interpretation of it is up to the viewer, but I think you are right on with your theory.












Ralph Hyatt said...

Yeah, that picture is not designed to make those people look good.

"See, only the lowest orders, white trash really, refuse to conform."

The bit about snark is meant to reinforce that.

Defying authority and expressing individualism is definitely the new uncool.

Bob Boyd said...

The Progressive view of Everyday Americans being promoted is that most people don't know what is good for them and won't make good decisions if left to their own devices.

They cling to their backward ways and their squalor like a leaf to clings to dog shit.

virgil xenophon said...

This Fossil doesn't understand what all the sturm und drang is all about--except perhaps the objections to the "teach to the test" bit. I grew up in the 50s and attended a Univ Lab School and were tested at least twice/year--the Iowa tests in the fall and the California tests in the spring. We thought nothing of it. And were expected to absorb the expected knowledge from general class-work and NOT special test preparation. I guess we were made of sterner stuff than today's generation of special snowflakes..

Ralph Hyatt said...

Cause after all, your kids are conforming for the good of the collective and they are getting crap for it from these lowlifes?

Its intolerable, really!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I think the schools should be glad the kids are opting out. As surfed points out, it's better for the school than the alternative.

At my kid's school, they usually put out snacks for the kids before the test, nothing fancy, just bagels, juice, and milk. One year, for budget reasons, they skipped the snacks. In response, the kids took a dive on the test. The school ( one of the best in New Hampshire ) failed to meet their NCLB goals.

The next year there were snacks before the test.

Sebastian said...

If they opt out of testing, may I opt out of paying for their public education?

If we are going to have public education and care about performance, we need some way to assess both student progress and teacher quality.

The problem in American education is not too much progress and too high teacher quality.

Of course, whatever tests we use have to 1. be good and 2. matter.

Ralph Hyatt said...

They really do need to paint that house though. Especially in a climate like upstate New York. Paint isn't just for aesthetics.

David said...

"A mother who opts her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of dismal underachievement."

Try that symbolism with a black kid and a black mother.

Ralph Hyatt said...

The trashcan in the near background, that almost looks like it is as much the subject of the photograph as the mother and son, I bet the photo editor could not believe it when he saw it.

amr said...

Looks likes a leaf in a kid's sandbox shovel.

Maya S said...

Sometimes a pooper scooper is just a pooper scooper.

Gahrie said...

Of course, whatever tests we use have to 1. be good and 2. matter.

More importantly we have to find a way for most kids to give a shit about the tests.

Laslo Spatula said...

"“I’ve been inundated with emails saying: ‘How can you call yourself an educator? You should not be forcing kids to take tests,’ ” Mr. Hughes said."

Furthermore, you should not be forcing them to attend school.

As Mr. Pink Floyd sang "We don't need no education."


I am Laslo.

Ralph Hyatt said...

"A mother who opts her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of dismal underachievement."

By the way, this is statement is an assertion without merit.

Why, exactly, would opting out of standardized testing condemn someone to a life of dismal underachievement.

The statement assumes that the only achievements that count are academic or achievements that require academic success.

sojerofgod said...

Where the hell do you see a trashcan, snowboots (shoes?) or anything else in the background? My eyes ain't what they used to be but come on!
The stupid!
It Burns! It Freezes!!!

Bob R said...

If you are going to put up with government schools with dismal teaching, fascist discipline, and a bored, captive student body, standardized testing seems a strange place to draw the line.

Tank said...

@sojerofgod

Trash can to the left, boots to the right.

That is an interesting picture choice. Meant to send a message. They could have chosen lots of other pic I'm sure that would have conveyed a much different feel.

buwaya puti said...

I guess the picture and article are missing the point. We have long had this issue in California. The people who opt out of the test tend to be intellectuals, leftists, hippies and the like, and their kids tend to be those who would have high scores. They are not the reason these tests exist. Avoiding the test, for these parents, is a bit of social signalling.

DanTheMan said...

The message is crystal clear:
Opt out = white trash

Laslo Spatula said...

"...which makes kids who opt out sit at their desks with nothing at all to do."

Future government bureaucrats, then.

I am Laslo.

surfed said...

Clarity - my former students weren't making a principled stand against testing - far be it. They just didn't give the first rat's ass about anything to do with the educational system in place. For many of them it was the first time in the entire school year where they had a writing utensil in their hand (if not for long). Normally they couldn't be bothered to bring a writing utensil to class and if they couldn't bully one off a smaller student they went without. On testing days pencils were supplied.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Laslo Spatula said...

As Mr. Pink Floyd sang "We don't need no education."

By the way, which one's Pink?

Todd said...

Sorry, I did not read the mother's facial expression as smug. I view it as rather neutral.

surfed said...

Further addendum - I would tell pencil less students to look down as they walked the halls which were littered with discarded writing utensils. Well, no. It was beneath them and their pride to pick something up off the floor. They would look at me with unreserved disdain for even suggesting it. My bad.

Ann Althouse said...

"Where the hell do you see a trashcan, snowboots (shoes?) or anything else in the background? My eyes ain't what they used to be but come on! The stupid! It Burns! It Freezes!!!"

You do realize that you need to click through to look at the whole photograph?

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think it makes sense for the 1% (in terms of scores) to opt out.

You know your kid is going to score at the top. You also know that the school has done nothing to contribute to that score. Your child has always been at the top, he's bored, the teacher hasn't added any value.

So why should she get to cover up her awful performance by averaging your kid's scores in with the rest? The school does nothing for your child. Why should you do anything for the school?

Of course, at that point, you really need to pull the kid and homeschool, instead of wasting his time, but whatever. You gave him his excellent genes. What has the school given him?

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, Meade and I had our photographs taken (in separate places) when the NYT did an article about us. Both photographers were trying to get portraits of us that put us in a context that was supposed to say something, to make us look like we were living in very different places.

Terry said...

"A mother who opts her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life as a dance instructor or a bonsai trimmer."

Craig Landon said...

Photo kid looks like a young Roy Orbison.

Terry said...

Without standardized tests, how will we be able to sort out the untermenschen?

Levi Starks said...

Not exactly related, but sort of related.
Do we see a higher suicide rate among under, or over achievers?
There may be no correlation, and of course you never hear when underachievers decide to end it all. It's just a curiosity question.
Maybe what's atntenheart of my question is do,we know if achievement = happiness?
And can we ever know, since it's the acheivers who are always in the position of being able to decide which questions are asked?

Ralph Hyatt said...

"Both photographers were trying to get portraits of us that put us in a context that was supposed to say something, to make us look like we were living in very different places."

They sent two photographers?

Beach Brutus said...

"Many of the messages that Mr. Turner and other superintendents received, they said, likened the sit-and-stare policy to child abuse."

Others might call that an opportunity for reflection.

sydney said...

My favorite New York Times photo editorializing. The photos completely undercut the premise of the whole article which was from the point of view of the rich woman who was buying the baby, er, renting the womb.

The Gold Digger said...

Defying authority and expressing individualism is definitely the new uncool.

What happened to "Dissent is patriotic?"

n.n said...

Ironically, standardized testing promotes inequality, and suppresses diversity.

Kzookitty said...

Dirty poop-scooping hillbillies. I'm sure the car up on blocks and burnt-out washing machine are just out of frame.
And the worst? They're bullying the school administrators: Some superintendents in districts that have had sit-and-stare policies said the pressure on them, and on parents who are having their children take the tests, is akin to bullying.
Somebody needs to take a time-out.
kzookitty

lgv said...

When I was in high school, I took the NY State Regents Exam. I didn't study for it or anything, but I scored well enough to win a NY State Regents scholarship. This gave you 50% off your tuition at any NY State school.

I demonstrated my great thinking on the exam and my idiotic thinking on my school choice, as I chose Community College at a savings of $350 per semester. Awesome decision.

Some standardized tests are worth taking.

Bob Ellison said...

My kids regularly take the local version of the No-Child-Left-Behind-mandated tests. I don't have a problem with that.

I do have a problem, though, with the way the school teachers and administrations try to trick the kids into thinking these are tests of the kids, not tests of the schools. Most of the students don't "Christmas Tree" around here, because for the teachers and schools, it's all a con job to get the kids to try hard.

I tell them to do their best, because why not? But I explain to them that these tests are just practice, from their perspective.

AReasonableMan said...

My daughter has just finished the common core exam, 6 one hour exams spread over six days. I spoke to a friend who just finished his MCAT exam, 7 hours of exams in one day. Guess who will be better prepared for professional entrance exams, those students who get used to 'high-stakes' testing or those who opt-out.

Life is about being tested, in one way or another. The parents are making a mistake. No doubt it is frustrating for the weaker students, but all of us perform poorly in some context, you may as well get used to it. Life is also about acceptance of our limitations.

Roy Lofquist said...

There is a whole lot of money involved in the testing racket. Just like the BBBillion dollar write-off of the failed computer experiment in the Los Angeles schools. The patient records software mandated by the PPACA (Obamacare) is sold by firms who made large contributions to the Democrats.

Here's a hint to figure this stuff out: GRAFT is your fist choice.

Mary Beth said...

If I were a test taker I would hate it if a non-test taker was sitting for "half an hour, swinging his arms and looking around the room."

Todd said...

Mary Beth said...
If I were a test taker I would hate it if a non-test taker was sitting for "half an hour, swinging his arms and looking around the room."

4/24/15, 12:50 PM


And humming! I would definitely be humming!

Anonymous said...

A mother who does not opt her kid out of standardized testing is condemning him to a life of brainwashing and overachievement in regurgitating leftist talking points.

Birkel said...

AReasonableMan is so reasonable, he believes he knows better for children he has never met than the parents who have raised them, because: illogical anecdote.

Leftists are boring and predictable.

Todd said...

Birkel said... [hush]​[hide comment]
AReasonableMan is so reasonable, he believes he knows better for children he has never met than the parents who have raised them, because: illogical anecdote.

Leftists are boring and predictable.

4/24/15, 1:25 PM


Yesterday's AReasonableMan tirade was just too much and I felt compelled to "hush" him/her. It was just not worth trying to make logical sense of much of what was/is written. I try to use the "hush" tool with create care but just could not take it anymore with "that one".

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Deirdre,

This is not meant to be aggressive in any way--you are one of my favorite commenters here and I both enjoy and respect your contributions--but do you think that schools *never* contribute any good to gifted kids? Mine are, and always score at the very top of the STAAR (formerly TAKS) tests that we have here in Texas, but I absolutely want them to stay in the system. For one thing I want them to have those scores on their educational CVs because they open doors, but to your point, I'm happy to use my kids' successes to illustrate the quality and dedication of their teachers. Their public schools aren't perfect, but they're pretty good, and they are filled with passionate staff who work very VERY hard to help my kids every day. They absolutely provide value to my kids.

But, also, Texas: teachers aren't unionized. :) The teachers in our district are all, no exceptions, on one-year contracts. They stop cutting the mustard, they're gone. No complacent or lazy teachers here.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I have misplaced--

But the thing is, if you actually think the school/teacher is adding value, you'll want to reward them and you WON'T opt out, right?

If mostly the upper class/educated types are opting out, it's a clear signal that they're displeased with the schools and don't feel that they're adding value.

How much value a school adds depends a lot on the teacher, the school, and the kid. Realistically, it varies year to year.

So.... if you want these parents to opt back in, either 1. You need to make the tests hard enough that they give real info on kids at the top of the distribution, so that parents WANT the info, or 2. You need to make the parents feel like the school is rewarding their kids for bringing up the scores...

If the parents see it as "Test prep has made class boring and useless (by, for instance, focusing on teaching 'reading strategies' that good readers already use without thinking) and "The Tests are worthless" and "My child's score will REWARD the school for wasting time," then there's no reason to have your kid participate.

BUT... if you feel strongly enough to opt out of the test, why AREN'T you opting out of the school? Fear of losing the free daycare?

AReasonableMan said...

Todd said...
AReasonableMan tirade was just too much and I felt compelled to "hush" him/her.


Ohh, poor baby. Life is difficult for those who don't deal well with other's contrary opinions.

buwaya said...

In California, oping out of testing was a Marin County thing (rich liberals). In San Francisco specifically it was a fashionable public school thing (there are fashionable and unfashionable schools, overlapping imperfectly with high scoring schools).

In general it was a white upscale liberal thing. The highest scorers of all, Asians, weren't big into opting out.

The whole purpose of testing was not (and isn't now) to improve the educations of the highest scorers, but to figure out how to improve the educations of the middle and low scorers. That is what the tests themselves are designed for. They are pretty useless at distinguishing between the 80th-99th percentiles.

The New York situation seems very similar.

One difference between California in the 1990s-early 2000's and now is the politics of testing. In CA the testing system, and standard curriculums, were brought in mainly by Republican administrations. Today the Common Core + testing is mostly an establishment Democrat project.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

D,

I dunno; I think you may be overthinking it a bit. Anecdotally, among us public school parents, those who object to and opt out of testing do so because it stresses out their kids, or to take a small, symbolic action against a trend they disagree with. I'm not sure that folks are trying to express solidarity with or objection to their own schools or their teachers. Families love both of those, and understand that neither Flower Valley Elementary or sweet Mrs. Jones particularly likes standardized testing or is to blame for the kids being subjected to it.

Michael K said...

"The highest scorers of all, Asians, weren't big into opting out. "

A couple of interesting articles about myopia this week. You can study too much.

In Taiwan, for example, the percentage of 7-year-old children suffering from nearsightedness increased from 5.8 percent in 1983 to 21 percent in 2000. An incredible 81 percent of Taiwanese 15-year-olds are myopic.

In case you think it is genetic.

In 2008 orthoptics professor Kathryn Rose found that only 3.3 percent of 6- and 7-year-olds of Chinese descent living in Sydney, Australia, suffered myopia, compared with 29.1 percent of those living in Singapore.

RecChief said...

the left is notoriously poor at thinking of un-intended consequences. They therefore become unanticipated consequences. stupid leftists.

Elisa Berg said...

I find no photo---a caption but no photo. Was it removed when its editorial content was noted by readers?

Unknown said...

Dr K, please sharpen up.

1, that link went to Slate, which I always find equivocal. However, assuming they are accurately sourced,

2, the link is not to excessive studying but, if the researchers are correct, excessive time indoors leading to inadequate exposure to outdoor quality light. Since I am a high myope this is extremely interesting and concerning. As a high myope, I would encourage the extripation of this disorder if it can be done by means such as supplanting sources of light or of nutrients associated with the lights.