March 8, 2011
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: http://www.citypages.com/2011-02-23/news/inside-the-multimillion-dollar-essay-scoring-business/. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.