I chose to opt-out my son from taking the Illinois Standard Achievement Test this week.

I don’t have a great philosophical argument against standardized tests. I loved taking them as a child and always did very well on them. My older son followed the same path and he consistently scored in the top percentile and enjoyed the break from the school routine.

My younger son is a very different child from the one I was, and his older brother is. Andy is on the autism spectrum and everything about the testing process is difficult for him. The change in routine upsets him. The tests themselves are difficult for him to complete. The need to remain quietly seated and completely focused on filling in bubbles with a No. 2 pencil agitates him. The end results are an anxious, unhappy child and test scores that in no way measure his intelligence or capabilities.

Andy is extremely smart. He’s smart enough that he can fly under the radar and make people forget he has a disability. He was featured in the Chicago Tribune for his 5th grade perspective on the presidential debates (“Presidential politics, from the mind of a fifth-grader,” News, Oct. 27, 2012). However, he has been taking the ISATs all along and scoring poorly on them, reflecting only on his abilities as a test-taker.

I decided this year to opt-out. He’s not spending his days in a state of anxiety for a test score that is ultimately meaningless. His teachers don’t have to worry about him having a meltdown and disturbing the other students. Most of the teachers at his school have stopped me to say they are so glad we chose to opt-out this year. His aide from previous years said she wished we had done it earlier.

In some cases, there is harm in taking the standardized tests. I got tired of trying to fit my child into the bubble on the scantron sheet, shoving him and both his abilities and disability, into a circle where he doesn’t fit. 

We opted out this year and I stand behind that decision.

Kelly Burgess Mayer, Chicago