How should reporters write about testing protests and parents opting out this year?
Carefully, in a word.Contextually. Skeptically. With much greater balance and insight.
Better than they did last year!
The testing protest/opt out coverage has already begun, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's testing season, after all, and we knew this was coming.
Teachers at a couple of schools in Chicago say they're not going to administer the state's lame duck assessment, and somewhere around 500 parents say they're going to pull their kids from the tests.
What last year's coverage often lacked, however, was care and context. Test proliferation claims thrown out by testing critics weren't verified (often it seemed as if no attempts at verification had been made). Claims that weren't in dispute -- say the number of parents who opted out -- often weren't presented in context (ie, as a percentage of parents in the school or district). The emphasis was on confrontation and consequences that were often overblown and/or speculative -- most of which didn't actually happen and were never likely to.
Parents and teachers who support testing are rarely found and presented to readers, resulting in grossly imbalanced coverage (especially since the vast majority of parents and teachers aren't actively involved in testing advocacy).
Let's not do that again. Or at least let's stop before it becomes a habit. Two recent stories from Chicago illustrate the challenges.