One of the great contradictions within corporate ed reform is the promoting of “parental choice” that stops short of the parent’s choice to opt his/her children out of federal- and state-mandated standardized testing.
Indeed, the latest ESEA reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to test 95 percent of their students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school– and to offer proof of a remediation plan for schools and districts that do not produce that 95 percent.
Meanwhile, the ESSA document includes disclaimers about state-level opt-out procedures being shaped by federal testing requirements.
The federal pressure is there for states to in turn pressure districts, and for districts to pressure schools–
–and for schools to pressure parents.
Despite the pressures from the federal government for states to deliver those standardized testing scores, sometimes the state, and district, and school, honor the wishes of parents regarding opting out.
And sometimes not.
The story below is the actual experience of my colleague, James Kirylo. He intended to opt his two children out of state testing in South Carolina. He spoke with the administration at his children’s school and was given no reason to believe that his request would not be honored– until testing day arrived.
Below is his story– complete with police presence.
Opt-out Not Honored; Police Invited
by James Kirylo
For the last two years in Louisiana, my wife and I have opted out our oldest child from participating in standardized testing. Now that we have moved to South Carolina, we are doing the same for our two children.
I not only wrote the principal and assistant principal of my intent to opt out, but I also wrote officials at the state department,detailing my objections with research support.
In addition to the above, I personally spoke to the principal and assistant principal and was given the distinct impression that accommodations would be provided for my two children to opt out.
Yet, on the morning of the first test for my fifth grader, I received a call from the school, from a Dr. Chief Instructional Officer (I will withhold the name) informing me that my son was placed in the classroom, and that he was given the standardized test. I was shocked, to say the least.
I expressed my great displeasure, and said it was completely inappropriate for my son to be placed in the class, especially after I was given every indication by the school that accommodations would be made.
I said I was on my way to the school to talk further about the situation.
When I arrived at the school, I saw two police patrol cars in front.
They were there for me.
Two uniformed police officers hovered around the office area, evidently thinking that I was a threat simply because I openly expressed my displeasure at the school for offering indications that the administration would honor my desire to opt my children out of testing and then violating those indications and for my profound displeasure that Dr. Chief Instructional Officer evidently side-stepped the principal and made it her place to dictate that my son go to his class where the test was being administered.
It was Dr. Chief Instructional Officer who called the police, and it was she who made all of these decisions before informing me, the parent.
So, as I was talking to Dr. Chief Instructional Officer, a Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability (I will withhold his name, too) came in to talk with me, as well.
Of course, the police hovered around.
I didn’t mince words in discussing my shock at the educational malpractice that I was witnessing, looking at the principal and saying with a surreal sensation, “Why in the heck are the police here?” The principal appeared sheepish, even seemed embarrassed, knowing that I have been a great supporter of the school, the administration, and teachers.
I asked Dr. Chief Instructional Officer and Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability why they waited until the morning of the tests to talk to me.
I also asked why they didn’t come to speak to me prior to testing.
Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Chief Instructional Officer and Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability knew I was opting out my two children days before the test, but they did not make any effort to contact me.
At best, I call that awful leadership and arrogance of power; at worst, bullying and willful intimidation. Their responses were robotic: “We are simply following what the state department tells us to.”
When one repeatedly hears such a mantra in the course of a single conversation, there is no more need for talking.
The conversation ended.
The police left.
As a parent, community member, and academic, I am as involved as I can be, and privileged to have had a good education.
I truly worry about the numerous parents of school-aged children whose voices have been marginalized by a system that will only alienate them more.
We have more work to do to stop this testing madness.
But all is not lost.
Since the school provided no accommodations for my son despite indications that they would, when he was administered the test, my son, in turn, accommodated the system—respectfully and independently on his own—by not taking the test.
The testing teacher said that he must put his name on the test; so, he did. And he chose to leave the silly bubbles blank.
While others were testing, he simply did something more worthwhile: reading and thinking outside of a test.
What a novel idea.
James D. Kirylo is associate professor at the University of South Carolina. His latest book is Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). Kirylo can be reached at jkirylo@ yahoo.com
Longer version originally posted 05-03-17 at deutsch29.wordpress.com.