Friday, March 29, 2013

Choosing to Refuse

I'm the parent.  I have been placed into this role by the Creator Himself to raise these three AMAZING and unique individuals to the absolute best of my ability.  I have decisions to make on a daily basis that will affect their lives...sometimes in ways that they (or others) may think to be unfair, but hopefully,  mostly in a way that will enrich their lives and eventually lead them to become creative, intelligent, thinking, responsible people.

As the parent, one of these decisions that I have made is for my son to "Opt Out" of his state mandated testing in school this year.

(Right now, many of you are thinking, "Whaaa...?  You can do that?")

I'm certain many parents aren't aware of the option, but more importantly aren't aware of the sheer number of these tests that our children are taking.  Some of the parents I've begun speaking with want more information on this option and the tests.  So...here it is.  Consider this your "need to know" (at least here in the state of New York).

A Little Background
Last spring, prior to my son actually taking his spring assesments in April, he was asked to attend classes after school that were explained to be "extra help" in Math and ELA.  He was asked to do so because the year before he had scored low on each test.  For a number of weeks, he would spend 7 hours in school, stay for an hour after school doing test prep, and then come home and work on homework.  It was frustrating for him, and frustrating for us.

Students in grades 3-8 were tested for 3 days in ELA and 3 days in Math.  90 minutes each day.  That's right, 8 year olds were made to sit and take tests for the same amount of time as 13 & 14 year olds.  Insanely strict "guidelines" dictated that all students were allowed a 5-minute break after the first 45 minutes of testing, but there was absolutely no talking allowed during that break-time.

The tests created by testing mega-corp, Pearson (who made $32 MILLION off of New York school districts to this testing mogul of choice), were full of errors and were just straight out bad tests.  If you haven't heard about the "pineapple & the hare" debacle, for example:

In the story, an apparent take-off on Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, a talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race. The other animals wager on the immobile pineapple winning — and ponder whether it’s tricking them.
When the pineapple fails to move at all and the rabbit wins, the animals dine on the pineapple.
Students were asked two perplexing questions: why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?
Teachers, principals and parents contacted by The News said they weren’t sure what the answers were....
...Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott said the question has been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.”
And he had a quick answer to the question of who is the wisest:
“Pearson for getting paid $32 million for recycling this crap.” (NY Daily News, April 19, 2012)


Not only were students stumbling over absurdity like the above example, it came to be known that there were questions with more than one correct answer, and some questions that had no correct answer.  Not to stump the students - just blatant errors in testing.  

...and when our kids were done with these tests?  Pearson and our schools administered another one, a "field test".  A test to test their test, if you can follow that line of reasoning.  

When all was said and done for last school year's testing period...as a parent, I had decided enough was enough, and it took everything I had in me to not go ahead and opt him out of his assessments 2 days before they were to happen last year.  But I know my son.  I know his levels of rational thinking sometimes.  (Or un-rational as the case may be.)  He is a stickler for knowing what is supposed to happen and when it is supposed to happen, and if either of those are thrown off...it messes him up.  So I knew that if I were to throw this at him...last minute...he would be completely off his game, not fully comprehending the why's and what for's, and this was something I wanted him to understand the reason behind the motivation.

I vowed to take the extra time and prepare myself and him.

This Year
I have opted my 7th grade son out of all of these state-mandated, unnecessary, high-stress, irrelevant tests. Despite what the NY state education department wants you to believe, it is a very real option for parents and students.

  • You may be told that the school will lose their funding.  (It's not quite that simple.)
  • You may be told that you're teaching children to go against authority. (There's nothing wrong with a lesson in civil disobedience.)
  • You may be told that as the parent you can't do anything, that it's your young 8 year old child who has to stand up for themselves and refuse the tests. (Remember that YOU are the parent of a minor child, and it is YOU who acts in the best interest of your child.)
  • You may even be told that your child will not be promoted to the next grade or will lose their AIS services unless they take these exams. (Pure empty threats and lies...and shame on them for resorting to these tactics.)

My 7th grader is prepared.  We've discussed this, and he totally gets the reasoning behind all of this.  That's important to me, because I got into this for his sake, and if my fight was putting more stress on him, it just wouldn't be worth it.  As it is - he gets it.  He understands it.  He knows what it's all about, and he's spreading the word to his friends at school.

My 3rd grader could probably be prepared as well.  It's her first year testing for NY state.  Everything in me wants to fight for her, but it was a compromise to go ahead and let her test this year.  Let's just say she's a completely different character than her brother, and more than likely she won't be a bit phased by any of the test prep or the tests themselves.  But on those days when she comes home with the four practice tests that she's done in school for that one day, or with word that her teacher has told the class that "everyone needs to get 3's and 4's on these tests", that breaks my heart because I know that her fantastically intelligent mind is not really learning all that she could be.

Next year she'll join her brother, and she'll be prepared to refuse as well.

C.


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