Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dear 3rd Grade Parents

From my friend Jeanette of Long Island Opt Out: An important message to parents whose oldest child is entering third grade and experiencing the state assessment system for the first time.

"I need your help. Parents who now have a third grader are generally new to testing and opting out/refusing. If you are on here, you are already informed. I need you to help me get this message emailed to as many third grade parents as possible!! I too have a third grader. I sent this letter out using emails I had from a class list. My goal is to inform every single parent in his grade, whether they decide to opt out or not. Change the message, make it your own, make it reflect your district. But PLEASE get this out there. We must reach parents who are not already on these Facebook pages. You can also print it out and hand it out at dismissal. Thank you!! "

Dear 3rd Grade Parents,

As you all know, our 3rd grade children have now entered the dreaded testing years. As a result of "No Child Left Behind" and now "Race to the Top", as well as NYS Education Department mandates, all children in grades 3-8 are tested every year with common core assessments created not by our school district or teachers, but by a corporate testing company. These tests cost our district hundreds of thousands of dollars both in the tests themselves and the testing administration costs. The assessments are given this spring over the course of two weeks. Our 8 year olds will be tested for over 7 hours, 14-16 hours if they receive extended time. Some NYS will  move to online assessments this year.  We will never see these tests. The teachers cannot discuss what is on these tests, even with their colleagues. (They sign confidentiality agreements). The assessments results do not come back this school year. They generally come back the following fall, eliminating any way for them to be used by the child's teacher. The results are a single score. Not a breakdown of areas of weakness, specific test questions your child had difficulty on, or a plan for improvement. Testimonials from educators after the assessments were administered included criticism of mistakes on test questions, questions that were two or more grade levels above the grade being tested, and even product placement in test questions. Many districts use the results of these flawed and inappropriate assessments to determine the needs of their students, rather than the advice and expertise of their classroom teacher. Students can be placed in AIS (extra help) classes, or taken OUT of these services, all based on assessment results. Districts, administrators, and teachers are evaluated based on your child's score. Districts scores are published, and teachers can lose their jobs with low test scores over consecutive years. This unfair evaluation system causes a culture of test prepping and competition, in early grades that should be about imagination, creativity, and whole child learning. The stress over test performance is felt throughout the entire school, right down to our youngest learners. 

Parents and educators have pushed back against excessive high stakes testing. Educators have been fighting against this growing culture of testing for years, and now parents have joined in the fight. For the past five years parents have been refusing to allow their children to participate in these assessments. Last year over 230,000 students "refused" the assessments.

[Optional] (Insert district specifics here) - example:  
In North Bellmore, over 250 families made the decision to join our resistance to high stakes tests, and over 500 in Bellmore/Merrick. Our district has passed a resolution against high stakes testing and the collection of our children's personal data. Our district took a stand against field testing, refusing to administer them last spring. North Bellmore has also eliminated all local assessments and standardized testing for our k-2 students. I consider myself lucky to be part of a district that puts the welfare of its students first and foremost. My actions and the actions of all the other hundreds of parents who have opted out of these assessments in North Bellmore are not just to protect our children, but to take a stand and show support for the teachers, administrators, and our district. 

I know a number of you have already sent in your refusal letters. If entire classes refuse the assessments this spring, we can essentially take back our classrooms. Teachers can focus on teaching a well rounded curriculum, rather than wasting endless hours preparing our children for these harmful assessments. Our hope is to return common sense testing and curriculum to our classrooms. Before the federal "No Child Left Behind", children in grades 4 and 8 were assessed by educator created tests, for a total of 70 minutes. The tests were not used as weapons against our teachers and districts, and they were used diagnostically. 

My intention is not to force, coerce, or manipulate anyone into anything. My intention is simply to inform parents that they do in fact have a choice. Refusing the test is as simple as turning in a refusal letter to the district expressing that your child will not be participating in this year's assessments. There is no consequence to the child, the teacher, or the district. You child simply receives "no score", and instead of a flawed assessment, the teacher will determine the educational needs of your child. If you would like more information regarding test refusals, common core, and the issues with corporate reform in our public schools, join us on the Facebook page "Long Island Opt Out Info"  [or NYS Refuse the Tests] and I am part of a coalition of parents, teachers, and administrators from our district, all across NYS, and across the country, trying to give our children back the love of learning and improve public education for all children.

I have attached a sample refusal letter.

Thank you!

*Please note I edited a few details from this letter as it was originally written in 2014.   3/12/17