Opt-in to education. 

My message for today: Trust your children’s teachers. Opt out of PARCC. Opt into education. Will you join me? 

Two years ago, I opted my children out of taking the ISAT. In my letter, I expressed a fear that the school might force my children to take the test anyway. My (children’s) school’s response, “We respect your decision. [Our] teachers and administrators have not and will not force any student to take an assessment. We strive to work in a manner of respect, transparency, and trust with all families.”

What a difference two years, a couple of changes in both district and state-level administration, and some serious cash-flow problems on both levels makes. This year, school leadership’s response has been, “The district has not provided us with opt-out provisions. Students will be in the classroom and will be presented with the material.”

At best, I find it distressing to see such a 180-degree change in attitude and approach in such a short period of time. Although part of me seeks to understand why there is such a change, part of me believes that the reasons are immaterial (or mythical, as this Raise Your Hand Fact Sheet explains).

I’m not going to fill this paragraph with flowery language about how teachers have my babies for 7+ hours/day / 180 days/year. You know that already.

But I do trust my children’s teachers as individuals, to do what is in the best educational interests of my children and of all the students in their classes. One child’s teacher responded to my opt-out letter by thanking me for that trust.

S/he’s earned it. His/her authentic assessment of my child’s strengths and weaknesses has added depth and nuance to my understanding of my children as students, as well as added value to my relationships with each of my children.

I am concerned that the narrative has changed from “respect, trust, and transparency,” to threats, intimidation, and fear. This is not how I behave or how I respond to bullying, and this is most certainly not the model I’d choose for my children, or that I normally see modeled in their school. And that’s probably the most distressing part.

As a parent, as a problem-solver, as a thinker, as a humanist, I refuse to accept the party line on opting out of the PARCC.  There is nothing high-stakes standardized tests like the PARCC or the ISAT have told me about my children-as-students that I didn’t already know. As yet, I’m still waiting for an answer that explains what the PARCC does for me, for my student, for the district (other than provide another measurement of comparison, meet Tony Smith‘s PIP, or generate profits for Pearson). Two of my children have specific learning disabilities; taking an 11+-hour test for them is an excruciating process. For the third child, taking the PARCC is “merely” a pain-in-the-ass, yet another data point on the plotting of “what is the point of this?!?” that is typical of the middle-school years.

Of significant concern is the change in opt-out procedure itself. As I see it, any student who must, by procedure, opt out of the test his or himself (rather than allowing the parent to make the decision) necessarily and immediately obtains a precarious position with his teacher, his peers, and his parents. Opting out of a standardized test should not require a challenge to student self-esteem and peer-relations. Few students have the strength to go against a teacher’s directive–“you will take the test,” as I discovered earlier this year after my child was forced by a teacher to participate in an event from which I had opted him/her out. Teachers can (and should) retain authority with their students in a class; asking students to challenge that authority directly will be detrimental to classroom management.

Finally, perhaps the biggest concern in this new process is helping my children to opt in to their education across 10+ days of testing. I find it downright shameful that the district can justify a previously unscheduled furlough day on March 25, but finds it OK to send a letter to families declaring the illegality of the CTU’s planned day of action on April 1. No mention in all this of how my children are losing 60+ minutes of education each day for a standardized test.


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