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Lots of Hoop Jumping

Remember in the Wizard of Oz how all Dorothy wanted was to get back home to Auntie Em? But in order to do so, she had to complete the monumental task of killing the Wicked Witch of the West, and this task took her down the yellow brick road where she faced endless challenges and...well, it seems to take a lot longer than it really should.

That's kind of the way opting out of the PSSA feels.

What I've discovered in the past three years or so of researching this is that the "ruling powers" (here that could mean the legislature, school board, or whoever makes the rules in your state) say there is ONE way to opt out of mandatory testing.

The actual process may look slightly different depending on the school district, but where I live in Pennsylvania, it looks something like this:

  • Write a letter to your school requesting to see a copy of the test.

  • Schedule an appointment to go in and see the test.

  • Read through every part of the test. If you find any portion of the test objectionable you then...

  • Write another letter to the Superintendent of the district requesting that your child be exempt from the test. To see sample wording for that letter, click here.

This takes time. I work from home and can easily bop into my children's school to view the test materials. I also have a degree in English and a master's degree in reading and language arts, not to mention the benefit of having taught school for over seven years. Are you catching my drift? I consider myself pretty "in the know" on educational matters. I don't know how many other parents would have this same insight.

Schools are also required to make the test available to parents at a time that is convenient to them, but I wonder how that works if you (1.) are a single parent who might work two jobs or (2.) are a non-English speaking individual or (3.) do not own your own mode of transportation. Do you see where I'm going with this? There is a certain amount of hoop-jumping involved in this process. And at its core, it feels kind of elitist and inherently biased in favor of people with both education and means.

Is there an easier way to opt out? The answer is yes. I recently came across a site that stated you could "refuse" the test for your child. This comes without having to look through the test and without justifying your decisions on the basis of religion. Click here to read a little more about that.

The other option (and I'm not 100% on this, but it seems to make sense to me) is that you just say "no." Parents do have the right to object to what is taught in school. For example, in high school, one of my fellow classmates objected to a certain book we were required to read. The teacher assigned a different book to him. Many parents are given the option to have their child not take part in sex ed classes. This is your right as a parent. Schools do not take the place of the parent...neither does the legislature.

This year, I wrote my letter late, and I was afraid that my son would have to take the test because I missed the deadline. I specifically asked the test coordinator if I could, in fact, just not have him take it...could they really make him do it if I expressly refused? She didn't have an answer, but quickly accepted my late letter and set up a time for me to come review the test that same day.

Finally, you can opt your child out of just one portion of the test, and as far as I understand, you can do it at any time. So if your kiddo is all gung-ho about reading but suffers immense anxiety about math, you can opt him out of just the math portion. Again, in PA, the process is the same as opting out of the whole thing, but it is another option.

You do have rights as parents. You are the authority over your child, and it's not up to another institution to dictate what your child can and cannot do. Educate yourself and be an advocate on behalf of your child. And not only that, but consider how you can help educate those who do not have the same kind of access to information as you do. There is more at stake than just your child's well being.

'Til next week, Friends,

With joy,


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