Repost: Does Educational Testing Interfere with Parental Rights?

Originally appeared at EduSanity on April 26, 2013.

I write today to express my deep concerns that you, parents of Arkansas and America, have unknowingly lost your rights. Specifically, you have lost the right to make a decision about what is best for your child when it comes to standardized tests, a fact I believe requires your immediate attention, ire, and action.

I started thinking about this issue two months ago, immediately in advance of my state’s benchmark examinations mandated by the No Child Left Behind (or untested) act of 2002. Because America is a big believer in the power of tests, students not only have benchmark examinations in the spring but also endure End of Course examinations in Biology, Geometry, and Algebra, the Grade 11 Literacy Exam, and in many cases, individual schools have signed up for outside, for-profit companies to come in and test the students as many as twenty additional days each year. Since we have new standards and new tests on the way, I asked myself why in the world we were still taking tests written to now outdated standards/frameworks. It seems ironic that over-testing and standardization is blamed for the failing of No Child Left Behind so our national response is to replace the old with new standards and tests.

What?

Whether or not you’ve turned on the news in the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard about Common Core Standards. These are different than the previous standards and have setup a most unfortunate situation for your students this year: students in Arkansas and across the country were forced to take standardized tests over old standards while being led towards new ones. In Arkansas, third through eighth grade and eleventh grade students in the state were unfairly and unjustly tied to a desk (not really but sort of) for five straight days on April 8-12, taking tests that absolutely, positively no longer matter: the Arkansas benchmark exams.</p>
<p>Next year, we are told that the brand spanking new and improved tests will be here—I can’t wait.

Our country’s obsession with standardized tests is unhealthy and what I’ll shout from the rooftops is the fact that continuing to test students over something to which they are not being taught makes about as much sense as building boots with spoons. It is nothing short of educational malpractice to continue to test students with a test created under old standards while many/most teachers are teaching to new standards.

Given this deplorable situation, I started wondering what could be done about it and if I recommended parents remove their students from this nonsense, just what would happen to the students, parents, or schools (or me). Being conscientious objectors to things, after all, is the very foundation on which America was built. For example, if you, dear parents, don’t want your student to read a certain novel in eleventh grade English class, you have every right to remove your student from what you perceive as harmful or objectionable. The same goes for other subjects in school and aspects of content in social studies, science, etc. I submit that the battery of tests could hurt your student far more than Holden Caulfield.

If the parents of Arkansas—or any state—all stood up to the big bad testing bully in the room and said, “ENOUGH,” the students involved would learn many good lessons about being American: the importance of standing up to senselessness, the power of protest, and the responsibility as students—with your assistance—to take charge and advocate for their own learning. What did your student gain from sitting and taking that test for five straight days? A sore rear end and an increasing distaste for school?

But can the tests be stopped?

There is an organization that supports this general idea called United Opt Out, a group opposed to all corporate education reforms (corporate education reform—think standardize, drill, test, quantify, repeat). In digging around their site, I’ve found that there is a multi-family complaint issued with the ACLU about testing and opting out of testing. Arkansas and other states seemed to think of people like me—status quo disturbers—when they crafted a policy delineating punishments for those students who opt out of the standardized tests in the state.

From Arkansas:

If you decide to opt out, there are consequences for Benchmarks, End of Course Geometry and Biology and Grade 11 Literacy – student will need to have Academic Improvement Plan and be remediated under the law. (the reason is that the student will have no test to show s/he scored proficient.)  With End of Course Algebra a student must pass the examination in order to get credit for the course (must have passing grade too).  Algebra 1 is REQUIRED to graduate.  So, without it, you can’t graduate.

If remediation (sic) does not occur child can be retained.

As I read this and thought about the ramifications of it, the skin on my face and ears started to burn. Seriously? Parents can and should have the right to pull their students out of this or any kind of testing. Groups in other states are starting to wake up to this chilly reality.
Whether you agree or disagree with the current testing, you probably agree that you—as a parent—should have the ability to remove your student from a harmful situation at school. Let’s say the tests were great, transformational learning experiences for students, parents should still be able to say, “no thank you,” when it comes to their child.

Let’s stop this nonsense and I need you, dear parents of Arkansas and America, to help in this action. Let’s contact state legislators immediately and demand a bill that returns these rights to the parents. And if they don’t follow through (insert joke here about the inability for any legislative body to accomplish something), let’s all simply pull students out of the standardized tests for the 2013-2014 school year. We could save the states a coal car full of money, perhaps money they could put to positive uses in education. Burn the cash in the schoolhouse chimney for all I care but give parents back their rights.

To let the lawmakers of the state know we are serious, here’s a release letter we’ll use next year.

****
March 10, 2014

Dear teacher, principal, or other test-administrator, please release my son/daughter from the ___________________ (standardized test) being given at __________________ school this week. It is my parental right to protect my child from dangerous, harmful, and senseless behavior and from my perspective, this test is not the best use of my child’s time.

Student Name _______________
Parent/Guardian Signature ___________

During the time that other less fortunate students are taking this test, please allow my son/daughter to perform any or all of the below-listed activities, any of which would be more educationally beneficial than sitting through another standardized test.

*Doodle on a piece of paper for the week. One never knows, a new pattern or perspective might be gained free of the limits of bubble sheets.

*Read a book or two or three. Research actually supports this as educationally valuable as opposed to what the state is attempting to do to my son/daughter.

*Write a story about their friends whose parents didn’t get the message and are suffering through a pointless test. Creative, meaningful writing has been all but lost from the curriculum.

*Play video games on a phone or personal electronic device. Even that would be more educationally beneficial than taking this test.

*Help the secretarial or custodial staff complete safe tasks around the office or building.

*Be released to attend a lower grade and provide free tutoring for students.

*Catch up on homework.

*Shoot baskets in the gym.

*Nap. Seriously.

Whatever you, dear parents, decide to do, I encourage you to take back your rights from the policy makers in this state/country. I took the Iowa Basic Skills test twice and the ACT twice in my 12-year educational career. That’s right, four standardized tests in 12 years. Your student may take four standardized tests in three weeks and what are they really learning? Checking in on students a bit more often isn’t a horrible idea, but I honestly think students are learning less today because of the unhealthy focus on tests in this country.

It is time that the parents of Arkansas and states around the country see these issues for what they are and to take back the schools. Testing, testing, and more testing will lead to unhealthy competitiveness, public shaming of school, students, and teachers, and a narrowed curriculum that won’t benefit anyone but those interested in destroying public education. The time to act is now. Contact your legislators. Contact me. I’d love to support you in these efforts. Report your experiences and the experiences of your son or daughter in the comments section attached to this article.

Your parental rights were taken away by failing educational policy and there isn’t a single good reason we can’t take them back.