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Civil Disobedience

There was such a great response from my last blog regarding opting out of the PSSA, that I wanted to follow it up.

For those of you who don't know, my husband and I opted our 4th-grade son out of the PSSA this year (the PSSA is the Pennsylvania state assessment). We do this for a variety of reasons, which you'll read later. What struck me in your comments about this on Facebook was that so many of you didn't know that was an option.

A sweet friend of mine asked me the other day why we go with this option. Is it really a "religious" reason or do we just not like the test. If I'm completely honest, it's a little of both. My husband and I pursue a life grounded on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Because of that, we believe there is a sacred part of each of us that is easily crushed by the world. As parents, we want to do our best to nurture that spirit within each of our children and point them in the direction we believe is right. To that extent, high-stakes testing does not align with our values.

But we are also philosophically against the test. My husband and I are both teachers - he teaches math, and I taught English. We have first-hand experience with high-stakes testing and have seen what it does to our kids. We also know a little "behind-the-scenes" information about it. Here are some of the reasons we're so averse to this kind of assessment of our students, teachers, and schools:

  • School is not a business. Monetary rewards should not be tied to student performance. There are many other ways to encourage teacher accountability, monitor progress, and assess learning that provide a more accurate view of the school environment.

  • A standardized assessment does not take into account different learning styles. There are no options for kids to express what they know in a different format or medium. What does that mean? Maybe a kid is better at orally explaining an idea than writing it down. Maybe a kid needs to show a process or build a model to demonstrate his understanding instead of finding words to explain it. Does an inability to be able to explain a concept in words mean you do not understand the concept? No.

  • Children who come into our country are exempt from taking the test for ONE YEAR. After one year in the country, they are expected to take the test, IN ENGLISH, like there rest of the kids. Could you have taken a standardized test in any language after your first year of taking that language? I didn't think so.

  • Students with learning disabilities get SOME accommodations, but only those accommodations considered"acceptable." Imagine being a child who struggles to read having to read lengthy passages with no help or support.

  • Testing takes away from education. For almost the entire month of April, learning is "suspended." This is not to say that teachers are not teaching, of course they are. But given the fact that students are testing for at least two hours each day, they are not as engaged in learning new concepts.

  • A standardized test is only a small snap-shot of a student's understanding. Imagine if you were given a raise based on a 30 minute observation. Whatever happened during that 30 minutes determined your pay for the rest of the year. What if you missed breakfast or fought with your spouse before that observation? What if one client happened to call and ream you out during that 30 minutes and none of your other 50 clients bothered to call and express their pleasure with your work? Or, what if you were judged on the performance of your worst client? Would that be a true or fair indicator of your ability to do your job?

There are probably 10 more reasons we choose to opt out. We see it as our act of civil disobedience. Educating the whole child is something we feel passionately about, and realistically, we feel there is little we can do to change the system, so we do this one thing. I also want to respect those whose opinion differs from my own. We all bring our own experiences and beliefs to decisions like this, and that's just fine. I understand that these are our reasons, not yours.

However, I do challenge you. Don't just have your kid "take the test" because that's what everyone does. You do have a choice. You do have an option. Does having your child engage in this assessment reflect your own family values? Does it measure who your child really is and all he or she is learning at school? Do you feel like your child's score reflects her teacher's competence as a professional?

My next post will be about how you actually opt out...if there is something you feel needs to read this, by all means share.

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