Why I opted out of the PSSA circus

Wasserman high-stakes-testing
Credit: Boston Globe

On  December 13, 2012, the School District of Philadelphia recommended 37 schools for closure. There were impassioned pleas and hard-worked proposals. There were well-written reports of community input. There was anger. There were tears. There were rallies, chants and marches. There was organization, mobilization and  solidarity. And then the School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools.  They voted against our children. Against their safety. Against their education. Against their future. So what do we do now as parents and a concerned community? How do we impact this bureaucracy that is called the School District of Philadelphia? How do we impede this assault on our children’s future?

We rebel. We no longer accept what is handed to us. We “do not go gentle into that  good night”.1 We fight “against the dying of the light”.1 Our children need us to continue to stand and fight for them. We need to protect them because the School Reform Commission has chosen to abandon them. We need to pick up all our marbles and refuse to play if we can’t play together.  But, how do we?

We  opt out of the PSSA.

I  have chosen to exercise my option to have my daughter excused from the state’s  two-week long, one-size-fits-all assessment of her ability. According to Pennsylvania code, parents have the right to opt out of state standardized  tests. Most of us do not know this since the explanation about the PSSAs and our rights under it is not distributed to parents. The school district, however, must honor the request of parents who wish to opt out according to religious reasons. I am not alone. Across the country, an increasing number of parents have joined a national opt out movement. Seattle, Pittsburgh, New York City. Parents are standing against the corrupting and corrupted role testing has become in our children’s lives and in our schools.

There  are many reasons why I chose to opt out – the first of which starts with what’s best for my daughter and her education. I have chosen to allow her work from the start of the year until this point define her ability. I believe in quality assessments that help understand children’s needs and improve instruction designed for them. I believe in assessments that help parents gain greater insight into a school’s quality and its approach towards education. But the PSSAs, especially now, are none of these. The PSSAs are not a tool to measure intelligence. It doesn’t measure creativity. It does not measure a child’s value as a person. My daughter’s education will not improve as a result of what happens on this test. In fact, depending on how she does, my child will most  likely receive an even more standardized and reduced level of education.

As  a parent, I cannot support the ridiculous stress our children feel about the all or nothing nature of this test. The PSSAs will consume hours of time that would be better spent on, frankly, anything else.

And finally, as someone who bore witness to the terrible injustice of last month’s school closings vote, I choose civil disobedience today. I choose to change my child’s future and to take my child’s education back from those who show so little regard for education today. I choose to disrupt the monied forces behind the tests – the test makers, test preppers, and test assessors – who make billions labeling and sorting our schools as “failures.”

I  choose to deny this Governor the fruit of his efforts to starve our schools and our children of a vital education. This administration has starved our schools then they use the tests to take away our crumbs. No thank you.

I choose not to participate in the circus that is the PSSA.

It  is my legal right and it is your right as a parent. I choose to be heard. It  is our time to stand and be counted. We have been deprived of our rights for far too long. Let’s join this national movement on behalf of our children.

“Dear Principal: Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22, Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from state standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.”

It’s time to exercise our parental rights.

1Dylan  Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” from The Poems of Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1939, 1946 by New Directions Publishing  Corporation.

Tomika Anglin is a parent at Greenfield Elementary School and is a member of the Parents United Leadership Collective.

6 thoughts on “Why I opted out of the PSSA circus

  1. Thank you for your eloquent words and passion towards the PSSA debacle. Parents/caregivers need to know their rights and the rights of their children when it comes to this one-track-mind test.

  2. It will take the impassioned voices of parents and community members to change our current educational reality. Keep fighting the good fight.

  3. Beautiful post. I love the way you connect the way the PSSA testing culture hurts individual children and their school communities.

  4. Outstanding message to those in power and us who want to empower our children and community that there is an option. What if 75% of parents did this? “They” would have to change the way “they” do things. The “they” I reference is those who decide this process is ok and don’t push back against it. I would not be so arrogant to say that “they” don’t care, I think it’s more like they just follow the policy and don’t do what “they” know is not right for our children because “they” don’t think “they” have the power. So if we gave them the power by rejecting the status quo then “they” have to come up with something else like, of all things, real differential education and individual child assessment. I applaud your courage and commitment.

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