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As students across Burbank Unified begin state exams, one starts an opt-out movement

Sam Gorman

Junior Sam Gorman initiated an effort that led to nearly 270 students opting out of the state standardized exam at Burbank High School.

(Courtesy of Sam Gorman)

Students began taking state standardized exams in Burbank earlier this month, but about 40% of Burbank High’s junior class chose to opt out of the process, according to Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill.

There were 269 out of 656 juniors at Burbank High who opted out of taking the exam after getting a parent to sign off on the request.

For Burbank High student Sam Gorman, the choice to opt out signifies his stance against a test that is based on “big data and redundant standards instead of the acquisition of long-lasting knowledge,” he said in an email.

He learned he could skip the exam last summer in Switzerland, where he attended a student leader summit hosted by Education First, an international company that runs study-abroad programs.

“Working with progressive education experts like Sir Ken Robinson and Nikhil Goyal helped open my eyes to the exciting possibilities of an educational system that treats students more like the individuals they are and less like the raw data they’ve become,” he said.

The state exam tests students on California State Standards, which until recently were called Common Core standards.

Our generation, it kind of dissolved into this mindset where everyone is so obsessed with getting the best grades.
Daniel Park, junior at Burbank High School

The computerized exam made its debut in California two years ago. It replaced the STAR exam, which students took by filling in bubbles on paper tests that asked multiple-choice questions.

The new computerized exam tests students in math and language arts and is used by educators to gauge high school juniors’ preparedness for college. Students in third through eighth grades are also tested to give educators insight into their grasp of state standards.

Sam wrote about Common Core testing on his website, YoungchangeBestchange.org, and then in mid-March, he tweeted a link that explained how students could opt out.

Juniors needed to make the request in a letter, provide a parent’s signature and date, and submit it to their school principal.

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It was around mid-March, still a few weeks before testing began on April 7, when junior Daniel Park was asked by a classmate if he would opt out.

“People everywhere were just asking, ‘Are you opting out?’” he recalled by phone this week.

Daniel is a college-bound student who is enrolled in five AP classes — U.S. history, English, calculous, psychology and physics.

He’s also president of the school’s Key Club, where he oversees biweekly club meetings and helps to organize biweekly service events such as picking up trash at the beach, mentoring students or participating in walks that serve as fundraisers for national or regional organizations.

Daniel said many students like him latched onto the idea of not taking the standardized exam, in part because they knew it wouldn’t affect their admission into college, and they had a lot on their plate already.

As Key Club president, he’s observed fellow classmates working so hard to log volunteer hours they are sometimes more concerned about the hours they tally than the service they provide. On top of students’ efforts to rack up volunteer hours, they are still hungry for perfect grades.

“Our generation, it kind of dissolved into this mindset where everyone is so obsessed with getting the best grades,” Daniel said.

The window for students to take the standardized exams finished this week. Next month brings AP exams and finals. During the 16 hours other students have taken the standardized exam at Burbank High, Daniel studied for his upcoming AP exams and finals on campus, in a room filled with other students who opted out of the state test.

“Time is so valuable for students,” Daniel said.

His parents were supportive of signing the request, and so were Sam’s.

“Parents have played an integral part in helping their children make a statement,” Sam said.

Meanwhile, only four students opted out at Burbank High’s rival school, John Burroughs High.

Among Glendale’s four high schools, 18 students opted out of the state exam, according to Lynn Marso, assistant superintendent of Glendale Unified.

“I do feel a lot more relief,” Daniel said. “I think the month of April is almost insane.”

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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