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Parents are opting out of PSSA tests: Here’s why

Inky-optout-Mar2014

Parents United’s own Robin Roberts talks about why she opted her three children out of the PSSA tests which begin this week. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Today’s front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer features several Parents United members including our own Robin Roberts on why her children are opting out of the PSSA tests which begin this week.

By Roberts’ count, her third grader was going to spend six school days – at least 12 hours – taking state standardized tests beginning this month at C.W. Henry Elementary, a public school in Mount Airy. Her fifth grader would lose nine school days to the PSSAs, and her eighth grader 11 days.

That troubled her.

“If our schools are not getting the resources to offer a basic education, what is happening?” she asked. “If it’s so important for us to do well on these tests, why are they not setting us up to succeed? The test doesn’t say anything about what my children have learned, what they’re able to achieve.”

So Roberts opted her three children out of the exams, which the Philadelphia School District will begin administering Monday. She is part of a small but growing group of parents who are pushing back against the standardized tests that for the last decade-plus have been the most important metric by which schools are judged.

Go Robin! Also cited in the piece are parents Alison McDowell and JoAnn Rogan.

The PSSA tests have always been highly controversial and now more than ever. This year our schools opened with 4,000 less personnel than they had last year. You read that right. 4,000 less science/math/art/literature teachers, reading specialists, counselors, nurses, support staff, and more. Children in high schools had multiple changes in their school roster. For months, there were dozens of split grade classrooms where over a thousand elementary aged students – most of them in grade 3 and grade 4 – were not even in the appropriate grade for learning. Struggling students lacked support for their needs; gifted students didn’t even get services.

Parents are pushing back by opting out of this insanity. It’s no accident that the one-two hit combines the punishing nature of these tests with the absolute deprivation in every single one of our Philadelphia schools.

Below we are reposting a piece on “Why I opted out of the PSSA circus” by Parents United’s Tomika Anglin. We hope this helps keep a focus on ways parents CAN exercise our rights and keep a responsible and healthy focus on meaningful learning in our children’s lives.

Why I opted out of the PSSA Circus” by Tomika Anglin

Originally posted April 2013

Wasserman high-stakes-testing

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 a member of the Parents United Leadership Collective.

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8 thoughts on “Parents are opting out of PSSA tests: Here’s why

    • have my grandson home today sick to his stomach because he was afraid of failing the pssa test,,,,something yes is seriously wrong with the system,what he needs is classroom time learning and not hours of testing each day,20 mins recess,lunch break,and back to testing..they started this year teaching how to ”focus” and get ready for the pssa…insane…more time taken away from teaching,,and yes how about teaching the teachers to FOCUS and teach and maybe than schools can stay open and children can achieve their goals…BIG thank you to the parents that take the time and concern to have a voice for the children..

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  3. I did not know you could opt out but was wondering why my children in public school had to take them but my children in private schools: one is in a Waldorf School and one is in a school that uses a constructivist method do not have to take them. Waldorf goes only through 8th grade but the constructivist school goes through 12th and they never have/had to take PSSA test but did SATs for colleges. Only reason I see public schools need them are to give (I really don’t know is it local government?) a ‘justifiable/legal reason’ to close a school.

    • I am guessing because you pay for their education and yes its a guide line to grant monies to school that did do well,,maybe the same reason not sure,,but the schools that need the funding never seem to get it….

  4. can i actually opt out my daughter who is in 7th grade with agora from taking the pssa wont they take me to court for truncy if she dosent go sue rooney she hasnt missed a school day and has good grades

    • Hi Susan,

      The PA Code states that you can review the tests and if it conflicts with your religious beliefs, you can opt of the test. However, you can refuse the tests for your daughter. Refusal does not require a review of the test, unless you want to see it. You can receive a refusal form with instructions by emailing refuse.pssa@gmail.com. Many online charter school parents have used this refusal letter with success. Be sure to send the email to your school officials (teacher, principal and superintendent). Online charter schools are considered public schools and you have the same right to refuse the tests as traditional students. She can continue with her normal schedule of work and as such will not be considered truant. Additionally, her grades are not affected by not taking standardized tests. I hope I’ve answered your questions. Feel free to reach out again if you need to.

      Tomika

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