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Social Media's Role in the Rise of Common Core Opt-Outs

Across the country, school districts have reported significant increases in the number of students opting out of Common Core state tests.

In New York recently, thousands of students steered clear of the exams at the behest of frustrated parents. The Wall Street Journal reports that 70 percent of students in the West Seneca Central School District opted out of the tests this spring, nearly double the number who skipped out on the exams in 2014. In other districts, opt outs were up 40 to 60 percent compared with the previous year. Altogether, estimates put the total number of student op outs in the Empire State so far this year at 175,000.

Concerned that too many opt outs will shape an inaccurate picture of school and student performance, at least one state lawmaker vowed to tackle the issue before the legislature adjourns in June.

“I absolutely believe we will take legislative action in the area of education that deals with all of these issues,” Senate Education Committee chairman John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, told the Journal News.

What gives?
The Common Core state standards have long been a lightning rod for criticism. Still, the precipitous rise in opt outs amounts to a curious trend. Objections haven’t changed much since the tests, which align to a federally backed set of academic standards, were first issued in limited release two years ago.

Critics continue to question the standards as a measure of school and teacher performance. Frustrated educators say pressure to raise test scores stifles classroom innovation. Parents, many of whom have ordered their children not to sit for the exams, say they are unclear about the metrics used to evaluate test scores. Others want more precise feedback on student performance.

What has changed is that the growing influence of social media gives educators, parents, students and others a ubiquitous and unapologetically open platform on which to challenge the status quo.

Statewide defiance
In New York City, Common Core opponents, including a prominent teachers union, took to Facebook to protest the assessments. That effort, detailed in a recent New York Daily News report, encouraged parents to opt students out of the tests. Such campaigns appear to have had a big impact on participation.

Mark Crawford, superintendent of West Seneca, told the Legislative Gazette his district also felt pressure from the community.

While the school system did not encourage parents to opt students out of the tests, Crawford said at least one parent organization promoted a boycott. “I think the catalyst for the increase in refusals this year was social media,” he said.

Social sway
The debate over Common Core wages on with little resolution in sight. But the role of social media as a catalyst for organized protest in schools has implications beyond the political powder keg of standardized testing.

Gone are the days when school leaders could set policies, enact guidelines and push relentlessly forward with state and federal mandates.

The advent of Twitter, Facebook and other online broadcasting tools has fundamentally altered the course of school decision-making. Community feedback is essential to the process. Every school leader knows, or should know, that controversial and unpopular decisions will not go unchecked. Social media isn’t just a mouthpiece for parents and others to complain. As evidenced by recent events in New York and other states, it’s also a vehicle by which to galvanize reform.

Which brings us to a critical question: Is your school district doing enough to ensure that it has a voice in that conversation?

Looking for a tool to help you better monitor and respond to community feedback? Start with Let’s Talk!