Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meeting at Sen Casey's office today

In about 90 minutes, Dr. Tim Slekar, Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State, Altoona, and I will be meeting at Sen. Robert Casey's Bellefonte office. We're going to talk about the need for parental involvement in decisions affecting schools, the need for a parental opt out option for state and federal standardized tests, and fact that the current and proposed "reforms" to education are causing more harm. The increased testing and the business behind it mean spending hundreds of millions on third party tests while school are being forced to furlough teachers, increase class size, and cut programs like art, music and even sports.

Wish us luck.

UPDATE: Sen. Casey has an amazing team working for him! Teachers and parents have an ally!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to stop preaching to the choir and get heard.

We need to shift the public narrative from "a broken system dominated by uninformed, uninvolved parents and lazy teachers who complain about being held accountable" to one of active, educated and angry parents who support teachers and neighborhood public schools, and who don't want Arne Duncan telling us what we need to do.

And for the record, I not only believe that teachers are amazing hard-working, innovative and compassionate people who are making a huge difference in the lives of my children and children everywhere, I know for a fact — because I've looked at the actual numbers, reports and data — that the meme of America's broken educational system is just not true. Urban "failing schools" are the consequence of how our society neglects the medical needs of low-income toddlers. Most parents think that their neighborhood school is doing a great job, even in New York City.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled in an NY1-Marist survey released last week said they disapproved of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s management of the school system. But public school parents appear to be drawing a line between his performance and their affection for their local schools, Dr. Miringoff said. In the poll released Monday, 53 percent of public school parents gave their local schools either excellent or good marks.

And the numbers are even higher for schools in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.

What Parent Can Do:

1) Go public with your news. And make sure it’s news. Do something newsworthy and local. An example: Parents and teachers from our local elementary school are holding a "teach-in" next week at Wegmans. Teachers bringing all the work that they normally do after school so that the public can see what teachers do after the bell rings. Parents will be there writing letters to lawmakers demanding that the proposed budget cuts be restored. We are sending out press releases this week.

2) Write an Op-Ed column for your local paper.

Absolutely no more than 500 words.

Short paragraphs with lots of white space.

A) Start with a very short introduction that describes your issue using action words and images. Do not go into a long story. Save it for later.

B) Clearly state your main point: Parents need to boycott testing, or Legislators must not cut funding, or Arne Duncan (or whomever) must go. Whatever it is, be very clear.

C) Quote your experts. List the heavy hitters who support you. Professors, doctors, psychologists, even government agencies all carry more weight. Cite the evidence, not just opinions.

D) Then go into your argument explaining why you are doing what you are doing. This is the place for opinions, details, tugging the heartstrings.

E) Contact information: Where people can go for more information or to get more involved.

Please feel free to use my Op-Ed as a template, changing the details to fit your town or issue.

Once your column is published, start to link it everywhere, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Get all your friends to “Like” it. The media looks for columns that get a lot of hits. I am still getting interview requests based on the column I wrote a month ago. It’s like Emily’s list and early money. Long before the first vote is ever cast, the media begins to set the narrative based on who has raised the most money. This is a great time to push the narrative that parents are angry and teachers aren’t being allowed to teach, with the Michelle Rhee cheating scandal and Obama's recent anti-testing remarks.

3) Send a letter to Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. His job right now is to mend fence with the grassroots. We are the grassroots. It doesn't matter if you support Obama or not. What matters is that Obama is the only one who can fire Duncan, and Duncan and his crew need to go. It might be a long shot, but if we don't try then we will fail for sure.

Be critical of Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates, but don’t attack Obama. We must support him in changing course while saving face. He's now on record as questioning the value of standardized tests. But let Messina know that Obama cannot count on your enthusiastic grassroots support until he separates himself from those like Arne Duncan, who do not support or respect parents.

Keep the letter short.

Jim Messina

Obama Re-election Headquarters

One Prudential Plaza

130 E Randolph St

Chicago, IL 60601

Changing the conversation

Parents and teacher must work together.

We must start shifting the public conversation on education.

We must loudly challenges the myths and downright lies that underlie the corporate reform movement.

The misinformation campaign disempowers communities by ignoring parents, treating teachers like assembly line factory workers, and students as data points.

The myths:

Education in America is not failing. In fact, it's brilliant! Or it was. NCLB, RttT and more overtesting are the problem, not the solution.

Parents are involved in their kids education. Teachers know how to teach.

The achievement gap between wealthy/middle class schools and schools dominated by children from low income families is the physical and medical consequence of poverty. Higher standards and more testing does nothing to fix the vision problems the 50% of low income children suffer. Nor the hearing problems. Nor the lead poisoning, asthma, or just plain hunger or even malnutrition.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More Testing is Just Good Business

In a classic example of corporate double speak and political spin, The DoE's spokesman, Justin Hamilton responded to Anthony Cody's column about President Obama's statements that we have too much testing.

Hamilton explains that we need even more testing, but that the "next generation" of tests will be "formative assessments" and therefore, not "high-stakes." He goes to great lengths to explain the need for more tests, given throughout the year to
assess students' ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media. They will provide a series of interim evaluations during the school year to measure whether students are on track. All of these assessments will be instructionally useful - unlike the one-shot, end-of-year standardized tests given as part of current accountability systems.

These are in addition to the continuing requirements to assess at the end of the year in reading and math.

And it's all about the money. Never forget it's all about the money.

At the end of the piece, he reasonably states
Under the Blueprint and Race to the Top, states may use a variety of tests to measure student growth. These tests can be portfolios, observation of student work against a rubric aligned with state standards, or assessments designed by teachers according to state guidance. All of these assessments must be rigorous and comparable across classrooms.

Rigorous and Comparable Across Classrooms? How are teachers going to do that? Hmmmm.....

The day before, Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff for Arne Duncan and formerly with the NewSchools Venture Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in both not-for-profit, such as Leadership Public Schools which manages charter schools, and for-profit ventures, such as LearnNow Inc. which also manages charter schools, published an article in the Harvard Business Review.
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students - and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

Oh look, Formative Assessments again. A whole new market for educational venture capitalists to get their hands on our education dollars while researchers from not-for-profts funded by Bill Gates, NewSchools Ventures, and others mine our children's scores for data.

My child is not a data point!

Rhee the Reformer

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Much Testing

Kids take a lot of tests, and there is a lot of confusion about which tests are which.

As parents we oppose high-stakes standardized tests which are used to hold teachers and schools “accountable” under the No Child Left Behind Act while providing no usable information to parents or teachers. These tests are now being proposed as a means of measuring teacher effectiveness and even determining teacher pay. When politicians and education reformers talk about “test scores” these are the scores they mean.

Just to meet the federal requirements to assess math and English, kids are typically tested all day for two weeks or more. The tests are created, administered and scored by private for-profit companies that charge state hundreds of millions of dollars.

SATs and other college entrance tests

College admissions tests like the SAT are voluntary. Students pay to register and then spend a few hours on a Saturday morning taking them. Those college bound teens who want additional preparation can purchase study guides or take private prep classes.

No college or university admits a student based solely on test scores. Grades, interviews, letters of recommendation, essays, and extra curricular activities are all part of the admissions process. In fact, today there is a movement away from even requiring these “entrance exams.”

Taking the standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind is not practice for the SATs. No child needs two to three weeks worth of practice every year starting at age eight to pass a college entrance exam.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills

The Iowa Test (ITBS) is a norm-referenced test to provide a snap shot of where students are academically. The whole test takes only 90 minutes with each section taking no more than 30 minutes.

Norm-referenced tests like the ITBS are graded on a curve so that most students score in the middle somewhere. Schools, including private and religious, use these tests periodically for diagnostic purposes. This test or one like is probably what President Obama’s daughters just took. A test like this is one that many parents remember taking and finding out that as fifth graders, they were reading at a ninth grade level or something like that.

Schools can choose when and if to administer tests like the ITBS.

The NAEP aka The Nations Report Card

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is given every four years to a random sample of school by the Department of Education in order to measure long term trends (LTT). Participation in the NAEP is voluntary and does not provide data for individual students or schools. The test remains essentially the same from year to year. The NAEP takes about 90 minutes.

Classroom tests

These are the tests that teachers make and administer in class. Teachers use these tests along with in-class assignments, participation, homework, projects, research, papers, and so on, to determine a child’s grade for the semester.

We are not anti-testing.

We are against high-stakes standardized test. President Obama recently stated:

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

So what I want to do is -- one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

High-stakes standardized tests don't just make education boring, they actually undermine learning. Because schools are virtually forced to emphasis test taking skills at the expense of science, social studies, art, music, and physical education, curricula are narrowed. Furthermore, the very skills needed to score well on these tests are antithetical to critical thinking. A study published in “ Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 80, 1988, entitled "Students’ Goal Orientations and Cognitive Engagement in Classroom Activities" demonstrates that students who are taught to skim, guess, and skip hard problems score much higher than those who reread passages, ask questions, carefully weigh options, and look for novel solutions. It is the latter skills that we should be trying to teach.

For decades there have been concerns that all standardized tests are culturally and socially biased. Sociologists and social psychologists have long debated the exact nature of the bias. The places where these researcher should be doing their research is in the test scoring centers themselves:

In the test-scoring centers in which I have worked, located in downtown St. Paul and a Minneapolis suburb, the workforce has been overwhelmingly white—upwards of 90 percent. Meanwhile, in many of the school districts for which these scores matter the most—where officials will determine whether schools will be shut down, or kids will be held back, or teachers fired—the vast majority are students of color. As of 2005, 80 percent of students in the nation’s twenty largest school districts were youth of color. The idea that these cultural barriers do not matter, since we are supposed to be grading all students by the same standard, seems far-fetched, to say the least. Perhaps it would be better to outsource the jobs to India, where the cultural gap might, in some ways, be smaller.

Still, some standardized testing may have a small role to play in our educational system. Today, however, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between what everyone agrees — we need to measure student progress using a number of different measures — and policies driven by corporate reformers and multimillion dollar testing companies such as Race To The Top.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Competitive Test Taking

We are told that this is our Sputnik moment. That we must out-educate the rest of the world. That we must teach our children to be more competitive than ever. That we are in a race to the top.

The top of what?

Sputnik already happened. It lead to a cold-war space race to see who could get to the moon first. We won. Then once we got there, we decided we weren’t interested in staying.

Why do we have to teach all our children to be more competitive? And how does testing them for two weeks when they are nine years old make them more competitive? Are we entering an international standardized test taking competition? With Finland?

Some people are naturally competitive. Some are accommodating, or cooperative, or supportive, or analytical, or encouraging, or creative, or imaginative. Isn’t it better for our kids and their future to encourage all these ways of being and more.

China has always had better test scores than the US. Interestingly, in his latest blog Chinese born and educated Yong Zhoa, now Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, writes that,

China’s imperial testing system, keju, enticed generations of Chinese to study for the test so as to earn a position in government and bring glory to the family. But it has been blamed as a cause of China’s failure to develop modern science, technology, and enterprises as well as China’s repeated failures in wars with foreign powers because good test takers are just that: good at taking tests and nothing else. Until today, China is still working hard to move away from a test-oriented education in order to have the talents to build a knowledge-based economy.

I’m not going to train my children to be hyper competitive. They don’t need to be in order to live successful lives. I want them to be happy, curious and confident. I want them them to love learning, discovery and invention. I want them to learn to think for themselves, to question marketing drivel presented as “facts,” to recognize the difference between evidence and opinion. I want them to use their talents for good and meet their challenges with dignity and courage.

I know the world is changing and that the challenges of the future are looming. But don’t we want the best and the brightest working together to meet those challenges? If a child has a love of art, or music, or dance, or loves tinkering with engines, or reading, or animals, shouldn’t that love be nurtured and encouraged? We can either have a society that gives all kids the tools they need to discover their unique potential, or we can win the international test taking championship.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another mother's experience

On our Facebook group, a mom asked about negative repercussions for children who don't take the test. She was worried about these kids being ostracized by their fellow classmates and punished by their teachers. Another mother responded:

Tricia, Luke did not experience any repercussions from his fellow students or his teachers it was quite the contrary.
As you know, the teacher’s hands are tied and they are professionals so they would not react either way regardless. As for our school, I can assure you that the teachers are treating Luke just like any other student, with respect, kindness and compassion.
But if you look at the research you will find that there is virtually no way a teacher could support such an atrocity to our children. I see the teacher’s hearts break when PSSA’s come around and they get the question, “Why do we have to take this test?”, and the teacher can truly not find any good answer. None.
What you need to understand is that there is not one thing about the PSSA test that benefits the students, teachers, administrators or the school. It does not affect a students grade, placement or graduation. It does not prove a teacher’s worth or teaching ability whatsoever. It does not bring money to the school as the cost of the tests plus the cost to have them scored (which by the way is not scored by TEACHER’S) is equal to the money the school is rewarded and in some cases less than the reward amount itself!!
As for the students, at first it was shocking to them that you could say no to a test – hard to believe – they wanted to know if it was really true - they started to think that would mean you would be held back a year if you didn’t take the PSSA. Luke has been a part of this decision and clearly understands the goal of the PSSA. Luke & I tell the students that he is boycotting because we support public schools and to “google” that. There is NO benefit for anyone other than the people who push to close the public schools.
We were nervous and not sure how the students would handle the boycott but we had to stand up in support of our teachers and public schools. To our surprise, the kids lifted him up, started asking questions, wanted to know more, are proud of him and want to be as “lucky” as him. They want answers!
Kids are not given enough credit when it comes to making decisions. They want to be informed and they are starting to talk to their parents. They want to “opt out” too. Not because it would be cool but because they feel duped and ignored. The feeling is that the students don’t get why someone would make a test that is not helpful. They are hurt by what they are finding out and want to stand up next to Luke. So they may not completely understand it (Tim has researched it for 3 years, it’s hard to understand) but they certainly can tell when they are being used.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What CNN Left Out

CNN left out the most important parts of the story

“What’s your beef with standardized tests?” was the first question Susan Candiotti asked me once the camera started rolling. It’s the wrong question.

The issue is No Child Left Behind. The critical fact that every parent needs to know and most do not is this: Under NCLB, there is a deadline after which we are all dead. That deadline is 2014. We are running out of time.

The goals of No Child Left Behind seemed laudable back in 2001. No child should be allowed to slip through the cracks because of disability, language, race or poverty. Who could argue with that? Yet, ten years of research, study and analysis have proven that NCLB has completely failed in its goals. Non-educators in Washington tried to micromanage the education of every single child. And because that management is based on test scores, the consequences have been devastating for public education.

This post is the first in a series of articles detailing these consequences and providing links to research and analysis by numerous experts from major universities to the Government Accounting Office (GAO). I am also going to explore the myths and misconceptions about these tests and look at the supposed benefits and the documented costs, both monetary and otherwise. Finally I’ll talk about what parents can do to make new choices for our children based on solid research. As parents we all want what is best for our kids, but we can no longer trust that a system driven by fear and greed. It’s broken, and parents are now the only ones that can fix it.

Who the people who started the parents boycott of NCLB testing in Pennsylvania

We are parents. I’m Michele Gray. I have a degree in Anthropology. I have two sons, ages 9 and 11. Dr. Tim Slekar is the Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State Altoona. He has a son in the 5th grade and a daughter in second. Dr. Terri Vescio is a social psychologist specializing in gender and racial stereotyping. Her daughter is in the 5th grade and her son is in high school. There are many others who have joined us. Some have also chosen to exempt their kids. Most just didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision in time.

Dr.Vescio and I have children at Park Forest Elementary, an awarding winning school in State College PA. Dr. Slekar’s children attend school in the neighboring Bellewood School District. CNN reported that nine children didn’t take the test at Park Forest but neglected to mention that children at other schools in our area also did not take the test. It is significantly more than nine kids.

How I got involved.

My oldest child, Ted, came to me last winter with an idea. He wanted to make a film showing how the PSSAs (the Pennsylvania State Standards Assessment, our version of the NCLB test) were hurting his school. Last year this nationally recognized “School of Success(1) failed to make the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Ted’s film would show how this testing threatened the rich and effective curriculum at his school, while negatively impacting teachers and students. At the time, however, my mother was dealing with breast cancer, so I didn’t focus on what he was saying.

Then my younger son started scratching his legs in his sleep until they were covered in bloody scabs. He has test anxiety but is usually able to do fine with the support of his teachers. In the case of these high-stakes tests, however, there was nothing they could do to help him. I started to pay attention.

Ted had already started doing research and pointed me toward a Huffington post by Dr. Slekar on his struggles with the testing. I contacted Tim, and he invited me to a showing of the Race To Nowhere. It was there that Dr. Vescio and I connected. We were both deeply affected by the Race to Nowhere and knew we had to do something. Then Ted showed me an article about the scoring of the tests which had outraged him. I contacted two of the people mentioned in the article, Todd Farley and Dan DiMaggio. After speaking with them, I bought and read Farley’s book about his 15 years inside the standardized testing industry, “Making the Grades.”

Knowledge is power, they say. Armed with what I had learned from the book and my discussions with experts, and inspired by the film, I was empowered to make a different choice, to say No to the NCLB tests.

This was not an easy decision. I talked about it with my family, especially my children. I also discussed it with my children’s teachers and their principal, explaining that if I made the decision to remove my kids from testing, it was because I believed in the school and what they did there. While the risk was that that my action might jeopardized the school making AYP, thiw was the only option left to me as a parent. I explained that if they didn’t make AYP because of my decision, they could blame me — blame parents and thereby call attention to damage that these tests do to schools, teachers and kids.

Why Now

Parents have been systematically marginalized from school reform. Diane Ravitch recounts over and over how corporate school reformers from New York to Washington to San Diego have bullied parents. Parents always watch helplessly from the sideline as their children’s schools are turned upside down by politicians intent on turning schools into little factories and kids into data points.

The next two years are going to see massive numbers of schools failing until the year 2014, when every school will fail. We are told that President Obama is going to fix the problems with NCLB and not to worry. However, given the partisan gridlock in Washington, this view seems naive, to say the least. Furthermore, Obama’s cure, once again, is looking even worse than the problem he wants to fix.

Next time I’ll take a look at what test scores really show us about school and the myth of accountability.

1 Recognized in 2009 by the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and by the Educational Council of the States

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PSSA left behind

So the PSSAs have started here. My kids aren't taking them.

For two weeks my kids tried to spread the word about the testing, that kids didn't actually have to take it, that their parents could simply and easily arrange for them to have an exemption. Most kids refused to believe them. A some did, however, and a few of them had parents that were willing to stand up and do what needed to be done to protect their children from pointless stress.

On the other side were third graders who thought that extra snacks and extra recess would more than make up for full days of testing. Plenty of children were really stressed out and now are feeling even worse. I know several kids whose parents assured me that their children were fine about it. No worries. But these same kids told my kids, and a couple even told me, that they were very anxious about the testing, their stomachs hurt, they were having headaches, and so on.

Yesterday my guys came home from school with tales of very jealous classmates who now wish that they had believed. Being tested like this sucks.

I saw the tests beforehand. In addition to the stress of just being tests for hours at a time, the tests themselves would be stress inducing because they are poorly designed tests. I did have to sign a confidentiality agreement so I can't say exactly what was on the tests, but if you look on the PA Dept of Ed website, you can see some samples. Questions that are vague, confusing, or poorly worded. Questions with more than one right answer or with no right answer. Math problems that our wonderfully horrible TERC/Pearson "Investigations" curriculum has not prepared kids to solve.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kids are different. Tests are not.

The people who came up with the plan of testing kids as young as eleven or ten or nine knew nothing about kids.

Kids all learn and grow and mature at different rates. I have tried to teach my own children that every person has unique talents as well as unique challenges. Learning to use your talents for good while learning to meet and master your challenges is your job in life. When I talk to my kids about religion, I tell them that their special talents and their special challenges are both gifts from God.

Standardized tests are fine for some things, I guess — as one part of the college admissions process or as one of several psychological diagnostic tools. But they are here used as one small part of the process.

Kids are not standardized.

I have two children. Both are boys. One figured out how to read before he was two years old. By the time he was in kindergarten, he was reading the New York Times. He still reads the Times. Math is a confusing struggle, and it's okay because he wants to be a filmmaker.

His brother has always been more interested in how things work. He had no interest in books as a toddler. Although, he still reads below grade level, eventually he'll catch up. But he can do math in his head. Mostly he just sees how things work. He wants to invent a time machine and knows more about physics, relativity, and something called gravitational time dilation, than any third grader you're likely to meet.

Two boys. Same parents. Same parenting. Same storybooks at bedtime. Same school. Same teachers. Two completely different test score profiles. No amount of test prep, test drills, or even special math or reading tutoring is going to change who they are. They just see and process their world differently. The only thing all that testing does is rob them of their childhood.

They are both so lucky to be in a school that celebrates their differences, nurtures their strengths and gently supports them in meeting their challenges. I don't care if their school fails to make AYP. What I do care about is that they both love school and love learning.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Busy weekend

My Op-Ed in the local paper has generated a lot of interest locally, but also online. Parents across the country are fed up with this testing. Even more so, we are all sick and tired of being left out of our children's education. The more the politicians claim that we are part of the process, the more you can bet we are actually left out.

Other Letters

Here are some other letters parents have submitted.

After reviewing your state mandated standardized test, I am hereby exercising our right to a religious exemption under state education law. Please kindly contact me to advise what alternative learning environment or opportunity will be provided for my child. Thank you for your consideration.


After looking over the content of the test and considering the process and consequences of the PSSA, my daughter will not be taking the test because it is clear to our family that our core beliefs and cherished values are being violated.


Dear Administrator

We are asking that you allow our son, (Name), to "opt out" of PSSA testing for religious reasons.

We are Unitarian Universalists with values rooted in the teaching of Jesus. Forced participation in state testing violates the following religious principles we value and strive to teach in our home.

"Unitarian Universalists believe in the never-ending search for truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations that appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wondrously exciting." NCLB and PSSAs are antithetical to this belief. These tests assume a static truth and train the mind and heart to close to the possibilities of multiple answers or interpretations. They force children to believe in a single correct answer and that there is no need to search for knowledge -- knowledge is given. This contradicts the value we are trying to teach our son concerning curiosity and the endless possibilities available to him as he searches for his own truth.

As followers of the teachings of Jesus, Luke reminds us that Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" also "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. And finally, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” PSSAs are designed exclusively to judge and condemn children, teachers, schools, and communities. We are also trying to teach our son to be open to the possibilities that "others" sometimes have different values or ways of seeing the world. We do not want him to judge others for their differences. We hope that one day our son will recognize differences in others and value and celebrate those differences. PSSAs force children, teachers, and schools to devalue differences.

We also believe in the Ethic of Reciprocity or the Golden Rule -- we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. As a family, our belief in the Golden Rule encourages us to help our son learn the value of fairness. We want him to treat others fairly and we hope that he will in turn expect others to treat him fairly. PSSAs have been demonstrated to not treat differences in children fairly. They fail to recognize the multiple intelligences present in all children. PSSAs discriminate against students from lower socio-economic conditions and unfairly penalize students with special education needs.

In summary and respect, we would like you to permit our son to "opt out" of NCLB and PSSA testing this school year for the religious and cultural reasons stated above.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March 8, 2011

Michael Hardy

Acting Superintendent

State College Area School District

131 W. Nittany Ave

State College, PA 16801

Dear Mr. Hardy,

After consulting with attorneys at the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking with the Director of the Bureau of Assessment and Accountability at the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Harrisburg, and much soul searching, I am informing you that my children will not be participating in this years PSSA testing. Additionally, I am informing you that I have been actively encouraging other parents to arrange religious exemptions for their children. Again, I have spoken with education attorneys at the SPLC as well as Mary Bauer, the SPLC Legal Director. What I am doing is perfectly legal.

On Monday last, as per PA Code Title 22 Chapter 4, Section 4 (d)(5), I inspected the testing materials shipped from Data Recognition Corp, a Minnesota private company to which the state pays $30 million annually to have these tests printed and then scored. These tests are scored by armies of temporary workers with no training in education. If you do nothing else, please read this article: I also highly recommend the book, Making the Grades, by Todd Farley. Anyone involved in education and in the administration of these tests should be informed about the fraud being perpetrated on the American school system and the American taxpayers by the private testing industry.

I have signed the confidentiality agreement and informed the principal of my decision.

I refuse to have my children take part in the testing because it is in conflict with my religious beliefs. The PDE advised me that even a medical or psychological concern meets this criteria, as long as I claim it’s religious. However, in this case my Catholic faith teach me that it is a sin to participate in an action I know to be a fraud and to be harmful to my children and to my community. Ten years of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from Penn State to Harvard (as opposed to politicians like Michelle Rhee or college drop-outs like Bill Gates) conclusively prove that high stakes like the PSSA testing harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society — kids with special needs and kids in poverty. There are mountains of documentation out there. For a beginning reading list, I suggest you contact Dr. Timothy Slekar, Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State Altoona. You can contact him at

Under the law, you cannot deny my request. I have also confirmed this with the PDE. My children are a fifth grader at Park Forest Elementary and a third grader at the same wonderful school. I am opting them out of testing even though I know that this action will result in the school failing to meet AYP for the second year. I believe in public education. For years we have all known that NCLB is a bad law. In 2014, every school in the country must be at 100% proficiency. You and I both know that is not going to happen. We all keep hoping that the law will be changed even though it is long overdue for reauthorization, yet given the partisan grid-lock in Washington right now, thinking that it will get fixed any time soon is a fantasy. My faith tells me that the only way to do the right thing for my children, their school, children with disabilities and/or living in poverty, and the future of public education in this state is to call for a boycott of the testing, hoping against hope, that if enough parents join in, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1965, our voices will finally be heard.

I understand that you and others in the administration here really have your hands tied on this issue. Under the law you must get 95% of kids tested. But it’s wrong, sir. It is all based on lies and deceit and greed and corruption. My faith demands that we must fight against this. As an undergraduate at Santa Clara University in California I saw members of our university community including priests, going down to help the people in El Salvador, even after six priests were assassinated by right wing death squads. That’s my religious and educational tradition.

I know that everyone is terrified of a school failing to make AYP. But to continue to participate in this corrupt farce is to undermine the very core of public education. Those pushing for ever increasing testing and “accountability” have made their agenda crystal clear: school closings, vouchers and eventually privatization, turning over education to for-profit companies. Private schools run by the Catholic Church and the Friends Council on Education are not for profit; they do not participate in this testing; their students receive a great education. For-profit schools run by large Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) have a dismal record, but that is the next step as more and more schools fail to meet AYP as we approach 2014. Eventually all schools will be closed down, reorganized and ultimately turned over to private for-profit EMOs.

We are told that private for-profit companies can do a better job than you and others who are committed to public education because of the free market. The free market resulted in scandals ranging from Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq, to the Enron debacle, to the recent outrage in our own backyard with private for-profit prisons for kids. When our tax dollars are involved, greed and corruption run rampant in the “free market.”

Please think about your role in this and if there is anything you can do to take a stand against the Big Lie that is NCLB and high-stakes standardized testing which threatens the future of the kids you serve.