The Uneven Geography of New York’s ‘Opt Out’ Movement

Authors: Olivia Ildefonso*, CUNY - Graduate Center
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, United States, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Schooling, education, racial capitalism, social reproduction, New York, neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8228, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2015, parents and teachers in New York launched the largest opposition to high-stakes testing in what came to be known as the ‘op out’ movement that then spread throughout the nation. Twenty percent of the state’s 1.1 million eligible students refused to take the exam. Since high-stakes testing has been shown to have detrimental effects on student achievement (Amrein and Berliner, 2002) and intensify divisions between already high-performing and low-performing school districts (Fine and Ruglis 2009; Mitchell 2010; Au 2016), the opt out movement appears to have the potential to benefit all students. However, when we take a closer look at what school districts are active in the movement it becomes clear that these spaces are shaped by race and class. The communities with the largest percentage of op outs are in middle-class, majority-white school districts. Working-class, black and Latino school districts have significantly lower numbers of students refusing to take the tests, and in many of these districts the parents have expressed support for the tests. My research asks why the op out movement has become fragmented by race and class. Furthermore, since op out communities have been able to use their power and “scalar repertoire” (Niedt and Weir, 2010) to influence state policy— state education officials recently suggested that high-performing school districts will not be penalized for boycotting the exam—my research will explore the implications of this uneven geography of who takes and who opts out of high stakes testing.

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