Opting Out

For the last few years when fellow public ed advocates asked me if I was opting my kids out of the PSSAs (Pennsylvania's standardized tests), my pat response was I'd opt them out only if I could also opt them out of the months of test prep. My answer was basically the equivalent of a shrug. I didn't think my one act of resistance could stop the momentum of standardized testing so why even bother.

Thanks to Trump, I'm no longer willing to just shrug in the face of injustice. Principled stands matter and it is no longer tenable for me to be blindly complacent to a system that is furthering racial inequalities in our country while at the same time killing kids' love of learning (including my own).  If I want the months from January to March to be filled with authentic learning and not test prep drills, I have to opt my kids out. If I want public schools to find better performance measures that don't favor the white affluent students, I have to opt my kids out. If I want the money spent on the billion-dollar test industry invested in classrooms instead, I have to opt my kids out. I do this knowing it may not bring about the immediate change I'm looking for, but if I opt my kids out and other parents do the same, I believe we can begin to swing the pendulum to a more balanced approach to testing. 

My unease with standardized testing has grown each year. When my oldest, now a freshman in college, started taking the PSSA's 11 years ago, it was rather mundane event proceeded by few prep worksheets in his homework folder in the weeks leading up to the testing week. Last year when my middle son was in 4th grade, daily homework starting three months before the PSSAs was completely test prep related. I would examine the test prep materials hoping to find something redeemable to soothe my growing testing angst and found them wholly lacking. The passages were poorly written on topics no child would be interested in and the questions were even worse. My son loved to come home and report that the answers I had helped him on were often incorrect. (I felt some consolation when I recently read about the poet who couldn't answer correctly the questions on her own poem).  In addition, I watched his anxiety grow as the test approached. When schools and teachers are evaluated based on the results of the tests, kids get direct and indirect messages that a lot is riding on their performance. Just a reminder that this pressure to perform begins when they are just nine years old. 

In addition to my kids' experience, I can no longer ignore the structural racism inherit in standardize testing and how it has changed the way poor black and brown students are taught in public schools throughout this country. Elite private schools attended by largely white affluent children, do little to no standardized testing of their students. But go to a school in Philadelphia where low-income minority students learn and you will see for most of the year, a drill and kill approach of teaching to the test that does little to inspire a love of learning. The lower a school's results, the more drill and kill the students will face and the less creativity the educators in the building have in their classrooms. In PA, low test scores of the students have not resulted in increased funding or more resources and in many cases, the low test scores become the grounds for closing the school and further destabilizing the community.  

So I just can't do it anymore. I'm opting my kids out as first step in a conversation about how we assess our students and our schools, who wins and loses in our current environment, how much are we willing to sacrifice in both dollars and time on assessments and what would a fairer system look like.  I'm opting my kids out to start that conversation. I hope you'll join me. 

Bonus material: A good overview of the process to opt out of the PSSAs.




Max Ritvo Haunts Me

To Philly, With Love