Thursday, March 27, 2014

#OptOut - Part The First

Gentle Readers,

I've written about the MSA's before in my blog, when I was a long-term music substitute in my neighborhood elementary school. I've outlined the accumulated weeks of test prep, the practice tests that take hours of instruction that began even before Thanksgiving, the long hours of testing, the children finishing before the blocks of time that had to sit and stare at walls until time was up instead of being allowed to even take out books to read quietly. Well, this year, 2014, was the curtain call for the MSA (which is being scheduled to be replaced by PARCC next year). With the new Common Core curriculum in place through elementary and much of middle school, the MSA, being based on the old curriculum, made little or no sense this year. It wasn't being used as part of teachers' or schools' evaluation, and yet the state was mandating, even in the face of a petition and pending legislation to the contrary, that ALL Maryland public schools set aside 2 weeks for this effort, which cost the state about $9 million.

In the past, our family was reluctant to refuse the test because we did not want our children's teachers or schools to take a hit for lower scores, as in Maryland, untaken tests are scored as "zeroes" and averaged in to aggregate scores, but this year we saw no point to the exercise, and so we sent the following letter to our school system and to our kids' schools, which is based on Opt-Out letters we found on several Facebook opt-out groups.

Dear [School District] Administrators,

Our child, Bookworm, is in nth grade for the 2013-14 school year at [School]. We are generally pleased with her education and especially want to commend the efforts of [School's] staff in her education there. With all that being said, we are writing to inform you that we refuse to have our child take part in the MSA's this school year, or especially in any PARCC field testing.

Ten years of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from Penn State to Harvard conclusively prove that high stakes testing like the MSA and PARCC harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society: kids with special needs and kids in poverty, like many of the children who attend [School]. We find such testing morally and spiritually questionable, if not outright unethical, based on the following:

High stakes testing:
-fosters test driven education that does not meet the individual/intellectual needs of students.
-fosters coercion over cooperation with regards to federal funding for public education.
-is not scientifically-based and fails to follow the U.S. Government's own data on learning.
-supports complicity of corporate interests rather than democracy based on public concerns.
-does not provide specific data that my children's teachers can use to remediate their teaching if necessary.

Additionally, participating in this test and the test-driven school culture negatively affects my child's social-emotional well being; kills her curiosity and love for learning; places developmentally inappropriate expectations and undue and unhealthy stress on her; replaces higher order thinking with "drill and kill" curriculum; diminishes vital opportunities for socialization; and diverts funding that could go to fund programs in Bookworm's school to testing and publishing companies. Furthermore, the PARCC field testing is tantamount to unpaid work for the students and schools participating; since we as parents are denied access to the questions and to the results (and yes, we realize that field tests are not "actual" tests), we do not want Bookworm participating in that activity either.

Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the "fundamental right" to "direct the upbringing and education of their children." Furthermore, the Court declared that "the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere "with the power of parents to control the education of their own." (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten "liberties" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children's education, the Court has stated, "It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder." (Prince v.Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

In summary, we believe high stakes tests are harmful to our child emotionally and socially, and diminish her opportunities to the right to a quality education. This year the MSA's are particularly useless, as they are not based on the current curriculum and the scores will not "count"€ in the same way they have in the past, nor will they provide any value for future tests since the MSA is being retired after this year. We see no reason for Bookworm to take them. We ask that she be allowed to occupy herself with other work during this time, either quietly in the classroom or elsewhere such as the media center, or perhaps helping a teacher or student in another classroom. We reiterate that this decision is not a negative reflection of our feelings about the quality of Bookworm's education at [School] or in [the district], nor of the staff there; it is solely based on our feelings about standardized testing in general, this year's MSA in particular, and the PARCC field testing.

Crunchy Progressive Music Mama and Hubby

Anybody want to take a guess what response we got? The following, from the "Testing Office" in the "Office of Shared Accountability:"

Thank you for writing with your concern about your child's participation in the upcoming administration of the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). We are not able to grant permission for students to opt out of taking this statewide test.

MCPS is required to administer the (MSA) and the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests to students this year. The Maryland State Department of Education has instructed school systems that students may not be granted exemptions or waivers to taking these tests.

All public school students are required to participate in the public school program which includes state mandated testing in reading and mathematics. Therefore, any student in attendance during the multiple weeks that the testing window (including makeups) is in effect, is requiried (sic) by law (NCLB, 2001) to take the assessment.

[Name Redacted]
Coordinator of Student Assessment
Office of Shared Accountability

If you think the story ends here, though, you underestimate our family. *grin* More to come in Part the Second.

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)