Saturday, March 29, 2014

#OptOut - Part the Fourth

Hi again, Gentle Readers (and raisers of ruckuses too *grin*).

When last I updated our sordid saga of test refusal in our Maryland school system, we had been basically thrown under the Testing Bus by the superintendent, despite his nationally-aired disregard for this year's administration of an outdated test. The whole time we were exchanging these emails, we were also in touch with the individual schools, AND we were furiously researching online for loopholes. Well..... we found a couple, actually.

Another parent in neighboring Frederick County had successfully managed to get her daughter's school to allow her to read during the tests by filing a suit; the school system offered the deal just before it would have gone to court. Nobody here in Montgomery County was buying that, though.

From the MSEA Facebook page
At the individual school level, things were happening. They had to happen - the testing window was about to begin....and then, the first two days were snowed out as a monster late-season snowstorm swept up the mid-Atlantic.

Woohoo - TWO DAYS of NO TESTING!!! A sign from God, don't you think?

Once the snow had been cleared and school resumed, my kids' schools picked up where they left off, planning to add the missed days at the end of the testing window. The way the two schools handled our family's test refusal spoke to me as much as our superintendent's declining to intervene in any way.

Bookworm, at 12YO, is used to being the odd one out: she's the kid who didn't know who Justin Bieber was (or care, for that matter), or what a DS or Wii are, and she's gotten good at advocating for herself. Last year in 5th grade, when she saw no point in the MSA practice tests that began before Thanksgiving (for the actual test mid-March), she stomped downstairs to the computer one morning before school and pounded out a letter that I included here on my blog, to which she got no response for several weeks, and when she did, it was primarily about the tone and very little about the content; the response served to make her all the more resolute. Monkey, on the other hand, doesn't like to rock the boat: she's gregarious and cheerful (or used to be, anyway - also another subject for another day) and isn't generally a fan of conflict, so when she's handed a test, well, she takes it. With this in mind, here's how it played out:

Bookworm with her pink highlights and protest tee, from Tone Deaf Comics.
Bookworm's middle school test coordinator was still trying to work out whether there was a way to help us refuse the test while still complying with the MSDE directive, so Bookworm was placed with the students who would be taking the PARCC field tests later, while her classmates sat for the MSA; this happened for two mornings. The afternoon of the third day, I got a phone call from the test coordinator, who was almost apologetic, telling me that while they had tried to find a compromise - hence the delay in her testing - they had been unable to do so, and anyone in her grade who'd missed their testing was sitting for the makeup that afternoon. I came and picked her up at school, thanked the test coordinator for letting me know, and we talked about when the other testing and makeup times would be so that our family could plan strategic absences to avoid them. The school wasn't able to excuse absences for testing, but they also didn't give us a hard time about them, and since we were able to minimize the absences, there was very little impact on Bookworm's schedule. The last 2 makeup days were a Monday and Tuesday the following week - and it snowed and closed schools AGAIN on Monday, and we were prepared to keep Bookworm home on Tuesday as well, but Fate kindly intervened - more about that after we read about Monkey's elementary school.

As it turned out, both girls' grades were on the exact same testing schedule: same subjects tested on the same days, and same makeup days. That made it easy for me to work out absences in order to miss testing, since I could just keep them home together and send them to school at the same time. For the first 2 days, while Bookworm was in her middle school cafeteria watching a movie, Monkey was sat in her classroom with her class and given the test. We had talked the night before about options for refusing while not being too awfully bored for the probably 2 to 2-1/2 hours of testing time; she did try some token resistance, but in the end boredom and her desire to please her teachers won, and she took the test those two mornings. When she came home from school those two days, though, she was a MESS: fidgety beyond belief, constantly chatty, weepy and angry and argumentative, provoking her sister, falling apart over things she would normally not even notice - and to top it off, she still had a full homework load to do after school. (At least some other schools weren't giving homework on testing days to kids in grades 3-5, some none at all during the 2-week testing window.) We made the decision to not send her in on the same mornings that Bookworm would be home (Thursday and Friday of that week, so still before the snowstorm). Thursday, I brought Monkey to school at lunchtime; her mood had improved a great deal over the past day since Wednesday wasn't a testing day for her, and I felt confident that another day off testing would help us get our cheerful little girl back.


When she came home that afternoon, I asked her what she'd done in class that afternoon. She immediately looked away from me and smiled sheepishly, and I knew what had happened. Sure enough, after lunch, the school had taken her out of class, taken her to a small office where a single staff member had been assigned to give her a makeup test, which took the ENTIRE AFTERNOON. In this instance, we were *not* notified. And sure enough, that evening, she was a meltdown mess again: after 2-1/2 hours sitting in silence, how could a child who craves physical activity like most people need oxygen NOT be? To the credit of the staff member tasked with this, Monkey said the woman kept apologizing for having to give her the test. Nevertheless, I was (and remain) FURIOUS at the way this was handled. The kind fate that eventually intervened in Bookworm's case had not yet materialized, and here was a kid who was literally falling to pieces from the sustained effort of having to just sit in Complete. Dead. Silence. for nearly half the school day. Add to that the utter disregard of her parents' stance and the comparative lack of cooperative spirit, and the sense of betrayal, both on the part of the school system and the individual school itself, was profound. We know the school was not legally obligated to notify us, but wow, it would have been a simple courtesy and would NOT have violated the letter of the MSDE directive.

There was one day of testing yet scheduled, and 2 days of makeups scheduled the next week (one of which would eventually be snowed out). We needed a plan.

To be concluded here.....

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