By virtually any measure, the movement to opt out of state standardized tests in Pittsburgh is small.
In Pittsburgh Public Schools last year, about 20 parents refused to let their children take state standardized tests.
One of them was Squirrel Hill North parent Kathy Newman, who thinks the number could double this year, but still will remain small.
Ms. Newman and others affiliated with Yinzercation (a movement focused on improving public education in Pittsburgh) are hoping to build awareness of the testing issue rather than focusing on the number who opt out.
Yinzercation will host a showing of the movie "Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education," at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University. The presentation is free although a donation is requested. It will be followed by a discussion.
The movie recounts support for testing by three U.S. presidents and includes the perspectives of those opposed to the growth of standardized testing, including New York University professor Diane Ravitch, who is author of "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools."
In Pennsylvania, students may opt out of state tests only for religious reasons. They do not have to explain the religious reasons to school officials.
The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in reading and math in grades 3-8 begin next Monday and run to April 4.
The PSSA writing tests in grades 5 and 8 begin on March 31 and run to April 11.
PSSA science tests in grades 4 and 8 run from April 28 to May 9.
Keystone exams -- which are secondary level end-of-course state tests in algebra 1, literature and biology -- will be given from May 12 to May 23.
Ms. Newman, who will have her third-grader, Jacob, at Pittsburgh Linden K-5 opt out of the PSSA this year, said, "I think opting out is a good decision. Ultimately, if parents take the data away from the testers, I think that's a really powerful statement. My goal this year as an activist is to raise awareness about the problems that I see testing causing in the schools."
The "Standardized" movie was made by Rockfish Productions, which was started three years ago in Berks County. Its principals are Dan Hornberger, an English teacher at Schuylkill Valley High School, and Jim Del Conte, an instructor at the Berks Career & Technology Center.
"Our target audience was moms," Mr. Hornberger said. "We wanted to anger as many moms as possible and get them to get involved and to know more about this, to realize that their kids are basically making money for test companies.
"If the moms get involved, the dads will follow along. That's how you change things."
A teacher for 24 years, Mr. Hornberger said, "I always had a problem with the standardized tests. With a good assessment, the kid gets to see the results and learn from them. They never get to see what they got wrong, what they got right [on state tests]."
Of the state writing tests, he said, "We're evaluating how well they're writing a first draft in a timed fashion on a topic they don't care about. How in the world does that assess whether they're good writers or not?"
Before working on the movie, he said, "I didn't even know opting out was an option."
To some extent, that option may become more limited for the Keystone Exams, which will be required for graduation in 2017.
While students may opt out of the Keystones for religious reasons, the state Department of Education says they may not opt out of project-based assessments, which are required for students who don't score at least proficient or don't take the Keystones.
In a new statewide system taking effect this school year, the state test scores will be part of a teacher's evaluation.
Mr. Hornberger isn't concerned that opting out could affect his evaluation. "I don't see that many kids opting out. If they did, I'd be proud of them."
Throughout the country, there are several hot spots for parents, students or teachers opting out of tests or protesting the tests, including Chicago, Seattle and Long Island, N.Y.
There is an organization called United Opt Out National, a nonprofit registered in Florida but with leaders from a variety of states. Its website describes it as the "movement to end corporate education reform."
Begun in 2011 by six people, United Opt Out National provides data on how to opt out in all 50 states. Its Facebook page has more than 7,500 followers.
Morna McDermott of Catonsville, Md., one of the organizers, said when she was growing up testing provided a snapshot, but now it is used to punish children, terrorize teachers and close schools.
"We're losing more and more instructional time to deliver tests we don't think offer any meaningful insight into what our children need," she said.
She said most states do not have formal ways for parents to opt out of the testing, but instead parents refuse to let their children take the tests.
"It's very difficult for parents. This is a personal decision. You're choosing to engage in something that is an act of civil disobedience to a large extent," she said.
In addition to the "Standardized" movie, Yinzercation also supports a testing petition on change.org that has 270 supporters. The petition calls for less testing and more learning.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.