Tag Archives: opt out movement

Permission Denied… So What?

Many people have expressed anger and disappointment about the Opt Out amendment not passing in the Senate yesterday.

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said. (Washington Post, July 14, 2015)

Newsflash!  Parents already have the final say in EVERYTHING about our children.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The #OptOut movement isn’t about asking for permission. It’s about you doing what you know you have to do to effect permanent change.

I believe the bill will pass in some form or another, because they have to do something and they’re serious about reining in Arne’s office. Although many hoped, I don’t know anyone who seriously believed the amendment to give parents the right to opt out would have passed. The fact is that the amendment was not going to remove the high stakes from testing, which provides the teeth to education reform, and without which the reform agenda would disintegrate.

Had it passed, it would guarantee that the high stakes would continue to be attached because parents would then have the sanction of the government to choose to let their children test or not. No school district would be volunteering this information.  Schools would STILL be mandated to test your child incessantly, to waste precious instruction time on meaningless, invalid testing.  Read one account of a teacher’s day here.  I posted it in a national group and teachers from all over the country responded that this is what they, too, face on a daily basis.  Being granted the permission for a right I already have would not change this daily scenario in our schools.

Currently, the state with the loosest rules about testing is also the state with the most stringent gag rules on teachers about testing.

In California, right now, parents have the legal right to refuse state testing by simply sending in a note. “Matthew will not be testing this week. Thank you.” Thats it. Nothing else needed. No drama. The one-sentence amendment which will be repealed in six years, reads:

60615. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted. (Added by Stats. 1995, Ch. 975, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 1996. Inoperative July 1, 2020. Repealed as of January 1, 2021, pursuant to Section 60601.)

I ask myself repeatedly – If Californians can refuse the test with no consequences, why doesn’t every parent in California just opt out? In California, teachers are not only not allowed to inform parents of this right, they are contractually and strictly PROHIBITED from doing so, at risk of termination.

The growth and force of the opt out movement has been strongest where reforms have been the harshest for children and teachers – New York, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Mexico. These are the states where legislators have had to heed their constituents and have actually begun to enact better legislation regarding accountability. (I didn’t say perfect, or in some cases, even good legislation.)

In California, it doesn’t count against the child if they don’t test. But schools continue to lose precious instruction time because teachers are still forced to test, as much as ever. So the question is, If the test doesn’t count, why test them? Why are they collecting all of this data? What are they doing with all of this data? Is this all only for accountability?

From United Opt Out’s recent statement:  “Why UOO Opposes ESEA(ECAA) and Supports the Necessity of Revolution:

The legislators revising ESEA who support “less testing” or a “reduction of federal involvement” embrace little more than an appeasement to the bigger testing refusal movement and do little or nothing to challenge the existing power structures. The same corporate-driven entities remain cozily in their position of POWER making damaging, profit-driven decisions about public education.

I agree with this statement.  Nothing less than the complete removal of the stakes attached to testing will satisfy us.  Until the high stakes are removed from testing and we can use multiple measures of authentic assessment, which do not harm children, teachers or OUR public schools, we will continue to refuse these tests.

Besides our own, the children, who would be most harmed by this bill, are the ones we fight hardest for – the ones whose families are without a voice, the ones Bernie Sanders refers to as “those who live in the shadows.”

Parents still have the right to opt out, and have always had the right to do so. We don’t NEED the government’s permission to do so. So let’s just put our heads down and move forward.

OPT OUT.  YOU must be the #PublicEdRevolution.

Be The PubEdRevolution

For more information, help and support regarding opting out, please go to:  Opt Out Orlando on Facebook

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John Oliver’s Epic Takedown of High Stakes Testing

Hat tip to John Oliver for his epic takedown of high stakes standardized testing. It’s taken the airwaves by storm.

“Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit,” ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver says.  

“Let’s put the tests to the test”

This is the most in depth and genuinely informed coverage of high stakes testing outside of the pro-public ed circles, to date.  Since it aired on Sunday night, it has been viewed more than 1.5 million times in just over 24 hours.

John Oliver was the perfect celebrity/media gun to take on high stakes standardized testing.  Why?  He has an uncanny ability to take a topic of national significance with an enormous amount of information and many different moving parts and distill it down to its most essential elements and convey it simply.  Satire at its best.

Considering the 200,000 opt outs in New York, plus all the activists in the states with major opt out activity – CA, CO, FL, NJ, OK, WA, and TX – John Oliver’s message has now reached hundreds of thousands of parents and educators who have not previously even been aware of the opt out movement. This is a huge boost to the opt out movement.

Here are just some of the articles that have been written about Oliver’s video in the first 24 hours.

HitFix: John Oliver’s rant on standardized testing is shocking

Time: Watch John Oliver Give Failing Marks to Standardized Testing

Huffington Post: John Oliver Explains Everything That’s Wrong With Standardized Testing

Curmudgucation: John Oliver on Testing

Diane Ravitch: John Oliver on Testing and Pearson on HBO

Wall Street Journal: John Oliver Rips Standardized Testing With Help From a Dancing Monkey on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Mother Jones: Let John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Makes Kids Anxious and Vomit Under Pressure

Salon: John Oliver perfectly sums up everything that’s wrong with standardized testing

Rolling Stone: Watch John Oliver Explore Insanity of Standardized Testing

Media Matters: Watch John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Has Gotten Out Of Control

Deadline: John Oliver Flunks U.S. Education System Over Its Standardized Test Mania

Business Insider: John Oliver has an epic takedown of standardized testing in America

Shortlink: http://bit.ly/1E3bi88


If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

Opting out of high stakes tests is about so much more than just the test.

As the parents of young children consider opting out, one of the Issues we face is how to talk to them about opting out.  They are, after all, the ones who will be doing the opting out. In all dealings with children, honesty is always the best policy. If you get busted by your kid for fudging the truth, you’re sunk. So what do we talk about?

When my daughter was 8, we started a conversation that has evolved over the past two years. She is now 10, and our conversation now includes my son, who is 9. 

I have tried to explain it to them this way:

When you take the test, you get a score. Your score gives your teacher and your school a grade. That grade tells the state and the district how much money your teacher and your school should get paid. It can even determine if your teacher gets to keep teaching, or if your school might be closed.

They asked me, “Is that why we have to do so much test prep?

“Perhaps, but it’s also complicated.”

We talk about recess a lot, because they don’t get recess. Usually, it’s the first thing I hear at pick up – whether he had recess or not. The Recess Report. He gets in the car, slams the door shut and says, 

“No recess… again” 

”Bus loop – one lap”, or 

“Bus loop – two laps.”

 They get recess on Wednesdays. That’s it. On non-PE days, if everyone has been good at lunch (recess should be neither reward nor punishment), when there is time for a break, they get to run the bus loop. The first time I heard this, let’s just say I was more than annoyed. I’ve told this to friends and they have no idea what I mean. The bus loop is the paved driveway where the school buses turn around. That’s right. The “recess” my kids get is 5 minutes around the bus loop. Their school is old, in not the greatest surroundings, currently next to highway construction, so it’s not even a pretty bus loop. Anyone who has ever played on a sports team of any kind knows that laps are a form of discipline – for being late, for talking back to the coach, for being lazy, etc. Laps.  The new recess is punishment.  PE is not recess. It’s another class.

Lack of recess is perhaps the single greatest reason why my children are so unhappy in school now. Of course, it may be different for other children. My kids do not get a break in the day. They KNOW it’s because of the test. Instead of recess, they do test prep. In addition to the increase in content to get through, over previous years, the reason they are constantly rushed is because teachers have to be sure to get in all the test prep they can, leaving less time for actual instruction. Instead of recess, my daughter in the 5th grade has Typing class – because… computer testing.

We talk about how some schools might have children who struggle. Their school has a large population of English Language Learners (ELL), and is also an Exceptional Ed Center, where 25% of their schoolmates are Exceptional Student Ed (ESE or Special Ed) – they know that their ESE friends get tested at their chronological age, not their developmental age, and they know the difference. To my children, THIS is the most unfair aspect of testing, and it doesn’t even affect them directly. They REALLY get it.

We talk about how it might be unfair to compare their school to another school where kids don’t struggle as much, or one where kids might struggle more. They know their teachers work just as hard, maybe even harder than other teachers in other schools. They love and respect their teachers.

We talk about the fact that their teacher doesn’t get to see their test, so the test CANNOT help their teacher to help them learn better.

My children are not afraid of tests. They know that the reason I refuse the FCAT/FSA is not because I’m afraid they won’t do well on the test. They would. They take tests all the time – spelling tests, vocabulary tests, reading comprehension, math, history, and science tests; tests that they review with their teacher, so they know where they need to work harder. THESE tests help them to be a better student and their teacher to be a better teacher.

My son is emotionally mature and intellectually advanced for his age. Without having been taught the same concepts, he often helps his older sister with her math homework. He tells me he isn’t learning anything in school now. While I could choose to believe that is simply a childish exaggeration, I choose instead to take him seriously. 

I ask him, “What would you like to learn?”

  He tells me, “Greek mythology.” It will have to happen at home, because it won’t happen in school. He can’t even discuss it with his teacher, because there is no time. When he recounts his day from start to finish – he talks about having worksheets and worksheets, and rushing, rushing, rushing, and double blocks of math every day now.

“But you love Math,” I say to him, with a smile, trying my best to help him find a reason to want to go to school, while my mind growls, “Grrrr…”

“Yes, but not twice a day. And we don’t get to do Writing anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Writing test is over.”

He says, “I don’t even care that it’s not fun anymore, Mom. If I’m not even learning anything in school, why should I go? If you give me one good reason why I should be happy to go, I will. But you can’t say, “Because you’re supposed to”, or “Because I said so.””

My children understand the need for rules, and they follow them at home and at school. They are also allowed to question anything. Respectfully. Parenting in this way can be tricky for a parent to navigate. Questioning does not mean you will always like the answers. But they know that I will always answer them honestly. My honesty with them teaches them that even when I don’t like their answers to my questions, that I have an expectation for the truth as well. That’s our agreement. Our rule. Carved in stone.

 As a parent, what do I say to this child, who I must answer honestly, when there is no acceptable answer, and he knows it?

My son is now occasionally despondent about school. He wakes up fine. Has breakfast fine. Takes the dog out fine. Brushes his teeth fine. Gets dressed fine. Then… when it’s time to go out the door, he gets a headache or a stomachache and sometimes both. He sometimes gets sweaty and irritable. His breathing becomes shallow. Sometimes he throws up. You may have seen this in your child. This is called anxiety. In a nine year old child. He looks up at me and his eyes plead with me to let him stay home. I can’t. Attendance. He becomes stony and will not say a word all the way to school. He won’t make eye contact with me. He goes to school because I make him go to school, and for no other reason. I can’t think about what must be going through his mind, or we won’t make it on time, but it’s heartbreaking.

When I told this to his principal, he nodded in acknowledgment, and shook his head. His response to me was very telling. His tone was resigned.

“A lot of what we have to do in school today is just because I said so. For the kids and the teachers.”

One night not long ago, my 10-year-old daughter had the saddest face. She is a joyful child and a wonderful student. Her teachers say they would like to clone her. She LOVES school… like I used to love school… She fears nothing. NOTHING. She’s not taking the test this year, just as she hasn’t taken it ever, and has been promoted without incident.

She put her head in my lap and said, “I don’t want to go to school anymore, Mom. It’s not even school anymore.”

 School is changing our children before our very eyes. And not for the better.  Mothers know this.  We are heartbroken and we are angry.

Our children are sad. Apathetic. Compliant. Angry. Frustrated.  Resigned. These are not words any parent would use to describe the experience they imagine for their children in school, or the childhood they want for their children, especially not for young children.

Joyful. Exuberant. Independent. Curious. Resilient. Persistent.  Fair.  Compassionate. These are not characteristics fostered by public schools under the crushing weight of today’s false accountability.

If you think your child is unhappy at school, and you believe it’s more than “all kids hate school,” you can help them identify what specifically about school is the issue for them. If you’ve never talked about it, your child may not even know why they’re unhappy. Even if you feel powerless to change anything that will help them, simply talking to them about it will help them to know that they are heard. The conversation may change more than you imagine.  It may not help you though.

My children know that if they wanted to take the test, I would allow it, and would be supportive of their decision to do so. They also know that if I make them take the test, it would mean that I believe that everything I’ve written here that makes school a problem because of the test is right. Well, it isn’t right, so I can’t.

If I did, they would call me a liar… and they would be right.

We opt out.

___________________

Shortlink: bit.ly/LiarOO

#whyIrefuse
#PublicEdRevolution
#OptOut


Adult Business…On The Backs Of 8 Year Olds

Florida schools will begin administering the FSA on Monday, March 2… The pressure is on to assure the data is collected at all costs.

Last week, the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE) handed down instructions for handling opt outs to districts: OCPS Parent Notification Letter

A handful of districts have chosen to be respectful of parents’ choice to refuse the FSA this year… others have not.  Seminole County has been courageous in this regard and issued a comprehensive
FSA Question and Answer Guide.

Seminole FSA QA

In the absence of the “whole truth” from the DOE, this clarification has been needed to quell the confusion and fear-mongering that was so cunningly targeted at parents and teachers. Seminole County’s Guide was the first bit of truth to come out of any district since the commissioner issued her chilling letter. Parents across the state have been asking the same of their districts.  So far, only Brevard, Hillsborough, Lee, and Polk Counties have joined Seminole County in similarly supporting children and families statewide. We are grateful for this demonstration of true leadership.

On Thursday, however, when asked by a TV reporter for her position on choice testing in Orange County, Supt. Barbara Jenkins responded,

“We are hopeful that parents won’t have children’s educational careers at risk over this adult issue, so we have no provision for opting out.”

She was, at the time, accepting a check for $10.3 Million from Gov. Rick Scott for the state’s School Recognition Program, awarded based on last year’s test scores. That statement protects the state’s interests, not our children’s.  To this, we say:

“WE, in the opt out movement, are no longer confident that our children’s well-being is the state’s priority over these adult issues, and have therefore sought and found provisions for opting out.  We refuse to continue to fuel the testing machine with our children’s data.  WE WANT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS  BACK AND WE ARE DONE.”

On Friday, Supt. Jenkins underscored the district’s position by sending this e-mail to parents. But that was not enough. The message also went out as a robo-call and in text messages, all in the space of an hour. Supt. Jenkins is Florida’s 2013 District Data Leader of the Year. Her message is clear. We want the data… and we will have it.

Jenkins E-mail 022715

As a parent, I am embarrassed and ashamed that these statements represent my school district.

What greater “undue burden” has any parent placed on our children, as young as eight years old, than the state’s burden of excessive high-stakes testing to harvest data, to secure school funding, and to threaten job security for teachers? THESE ISSUES are the real adult issues. The mandates, policies, rules, and statutes attaching the highest stakes to testing have already been forced upon the backs of our children by punitive federal and state laws, and are implemented and enforced by school districts.

The Superintendent is correct when she states that there is no option to opt out of the FSA. Opting Out has never been an option, and it is still not an “option”. No parent or student is asking for permission to opt out of the test. It has always been a parent’s and a student’s RIGHT to do so. Parents and students can still make that choice, regardless of the Commissioner’s letter.

What can you do to protect your child from having to bear such a burden?

Your parental mandate to protect the well-being of your child morally supersedes any law of the land to provide “accountability” to the powers that be. You can refuse to go along without question simply because it is mandated.

When parents make the decision for their child to opt out, some express fear or hesitation, others tell us they have been repudiated, over placing the burden of opting out on young children, such as Supt. Jenkins implies repeatedly. The daily burden of excessive, punitive high stakes tests on children is a far greater burden for them to bear than refusing the test will ever be. This burden is not imposed by parents. Children are really on the front lines for matters that have nothing to do with their actual learning. They are there at the behest of the state, NOT parents. And you do not have to offer them up like little lambs.

When children, especially young children, are asked to bear the burden of performing on a single test, or else… in order to ensure their promotion, graduation, possible retention and/or remediation, whether their teacher’s contract is renewed, whether their school stays open, whether their school gets the right grade to ensure adequate funding, it is oppressive and abusive. There is no way that it cannot be. THESE are adult concerns and have no place in any child’s education. To allow children to participate in this farce is to condone and perpetuate these oppressive and abusive policies. High stakes testing distorts the relationship of trust between teachers and students.

Is the business of our school districts and schools to support our children in learning to love learning so that they can become curious, questioning, independent, engaged, productive and contributing citizens – in other words, whole human beings? Or is the state’s chief concern the implementation of state mandates, no matter the human cost?

Some have expressed concern that students who opt out harm their teachers and schools by denying test scores and data. Proper refusals do NOT count against teachers and schools. Furthermore, THIS is the very reason why we MUST refuse by opting out: we do not send our children to school for the purpose of providing data, with which to protect their teachers and schools. THIS is adult business.

Opting out is not easy. It is not an action parents choose without great consideration of all of the consequences. It is our last resort, in order to bring to bear the appropriate pressure on legislators to effect positive, meaningful, and lasting change to the laws governing public education.

Since last June, Opt Out Orlando has helped parents, teachers and former teachers to start their own local Opt Out groups in 26 separate districts across the state of Florida. In this way, parents and teachers have locked arms and have become empowered to address their specific concerns and to advocate for the children in their local communities.  We also advocate strongly for teachers. And we have organized thousands of parents and teachers, who work tirelessly in support of meaningful legislation, with which we hope to return authentic assessments and real accountability to public education in Florida.

It is our hope that as Monday looms large, that the Department of Education will provide guidance to all districts, with which to respectfully deal with families who choose to refuse these tests on moral grounds.

If school districts continue to put the admittedly unreasonable and illegitimate demands of the state above the welfare of our children, this grassroots movement will continue to grow. Since Supt. Jenkins’ campaign of intimidation yesterday, we have been VERY busy approving all the new parents requesting to join Opt Out Orlando.

Until we have multiple measures of authentic assessments to guide our children’s education, that do not threaten and punish children, teachers and schools, we will continue to refuse these high stakes tests, and we will continue to grow this movement.

Tweet: bit.ly/AdultBiz

NOTE:  It is important to note here that although Polk County has issued virtually the same policy for children and testing and test refusals as Seminole County, they have sent the most threatening directive to teachers – threatening them for not reporting POTENTIAL opt outs, of which they may be aware.  This is blatant intimidation and it is unconscionable.

Links to Resources:

REFUSE THE FSA in 3 Easy Steps

Opt Out Orlando’s Open Letter to the Florida House and Senate –
Feb 19 2015

Opt Out Documents

Opt Out Groups by District

Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School

FairTest – List of 850+ test optional colleges

What Opt Out Is NOT


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