Friday, February 6, 2015

Opt Out Week on the Range: Day Five (Potpourri)

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 1:00 PM

No PARCCing! That was one of the signs held up during a New Jersey Board of Education meeting in January. PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is one of the high stakes tests for Common Core being used in some states.

Today is the last day of my Opt Out Week on the Range, and this post is a collection of tidbits from the news in states I haven't written about. At the end of a post is a link to the four previous posts.

Let's begin here in Arizona. Though a few students opted out of last year's state testing, it was nothing that could be considered a movement compared to some other states. But if a Capitol Times article is correct, we could hear lots of grumbling during and after the upcoming assessment season. Opening line of the article:
The Arizona Department of Education is expecting the initial achievement test tied to the Common Core learning standards to be a disaster.
Not surprisingly, many schools' computers and network capacities are old and slow, which means they can't handle the online tests. That means going with the costlier paper versions — which teachers haven't been trained to administer. According to Michael Bradley, Ed Supe Diane Douglas' Chief of Staff, the Department of Ed would like to opt out of the tests entirely this year, except that the state could lose a lot of federal funding.

Arizona students won't be taking either of the two tests OK'd by the Common Core consortium, the PARCC and the Smarter Balance tests. It's using its own AZMerit test. And it has good company. Just over half the nation's students will be taking other tests. So much for the "Common" in Common Core assessment, which, of course, is one of the aspects proponents are most proud of. If every child takes the same tests, we'll be able to compare their scores and sort out the winners and losers across the country. Looks like it ain't gonna happen any time in the near future.

Next, to Florida. Florida has a vibrant opt out movement, but the state has laid down the law: opting out is not allowed.
Florida students cannot legally opt out of the state's standardized exams, and their teachers and school districts could face trouble if they do — or their parents do it for them, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote today in a letter sent to key Florida state senators.

Stewart's letter — written in response to a letter the senators sent her — reiterated her position that state law (see section 1008.22 of the Florida statutes) "requires students to participate in the state assessment system, therefore there is no opt out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out."
In New Jersey, the opt out movement has gained some acceptance. In Haddon Township School District, the superintendent has told parents to submit a letter saying their child won't participate in the test. Their children will be marked present, then moved to a separate area from where other children are being tested. In Montclair District, a 10 year old gave an impassioned speech in front of the board, to a standing ovation. The board adopted a resolution stating that parental opt out requests "should be met at the district level with educationally appropriate and non-punitive responses." The state's Education Commissioner said that if students refuse to take the tests and aren't disruptive, districts “should have a policy of what you do with that child.”

And Newark mayor Ras Baraka, who replaced Cory Booker when he moved up to the U.S. Senate, said Newark Public Schools should give their support, not only to parents but to educators who want to opt out. 
"It is my view that parents and educators are vital voices in schools and educational policy," Baraka said in a statement.

"I stand in solidarity with their opposition to this regime of standardized testing and call upon the district to meet parental decisions to "opt-out" with educationally appropriate, not punitive responses, including alternative settings and activities wherever possible."
Before he was mayor, Baraka was principal of Newark's Central High School.

Delaware hasn't made much opt out news, but its opt out advocates have come up with the nation's best acronym: DOOM: Delaware Opt Out Month.

Some teachers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are telling parents their children can opt out. They've been supported by some of the city council members. At North Philadelphia's Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, 100 parents have submitted opt out letters to the school. The district is not happy and is investigating the situation.

Other states have similar stories of parents, teachers, administrators and legislators opposing standardized testing. I've seen an upsurge in the number of articles about opting out around the country now that standardized testing season is approaching. No telling what test day(s) will bring.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, the education committee is discussing what to do with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind legislation. One subject of discussion: should standardized tests be given on a yearly basis as they are now, or should states be given leeway to give fewer tests — say, one test during the elementary years, one in middle school and one in high school — or use a combination of assessment tools rather than rely on standardized testing? No decision has been made.

Here are links to my other posts from Opt Out Week on the Range: Day One (Overview); Day Two (New York); Day Three (Louisiana); Day Four (Colorado and Illinois).

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