By Dr. James D. Kirylo, Professor of Education
Why My Son will Opt Out of PARCC
(Enough: Stand Up, Speak Out, and Opt Out)
Delivered on Feb. 5, 2015, Amite, La., USA
While I am a professor of education, I don’t come here to speak in that official capacity, but, rather, as a parent with two children attending a public school in the state of Louisiana.
The theme of my remarks is related to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) testing, and standardized testing in general, obviously politically charged interrelated topics.
But, then again, education is political at its core, no more exemplified when Governor Jindal was for Common Core before he was against it, and not to be outdone, Senator Vitter was against it, before he was for it, to be back against it. And, now more recently, the Governor and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), headed by Chas Roemer, are in a cat fight regarding PARCC testing, with many others now jumping into the fray.
And so, of course, it should not be any great wonder that so many people around the state are scratching their collective heads regarding Common Core and PARCC, no more tangibly experienced by teachers, felt by the parents, and imposed on our children.
I think it is fair to say Common Core should be taken with a relative grain of salt simply because some of it just makes no doggone sense. For example, it is not uncommon my Antonio, a third grader, will ask me how to do a particular homework math problem, and I will have no earthly idea how to do it. So I respond to him, son, please explain to your teacher that your daddy doesn’t know how to do this one. And, I jokingly suggest to my wife that his teacher probably doesn’t know how to do it either that is why she sends it home to see if the parents can figure this thing out. Because it makes no doggone sense to her either. And so it goes.
To the central point of what I want to share, which is to let this board know that my son will be opting out of PARCC testing. There are many reasons for this decision, some of which I will communicate here.
Wasn’t it Mr. John White, the unqualified Louisiana Superintendent of Education, who said on more than one occasion that parents know what is best for their children? Well, I can unequivocally tell you that opting out my child from PARCC is best for him. I encourage other parents to do the same. And, parents, don’t let anyone coercively tell you different, with a bullying tactic how opting out will negatively impact schools’/teachers’ scores. You have the right to opt out. And opting out of PARCC does not mean one is agreeing to take some other replacement standardized test.
The issue for me here is not only the PARCC assessment tool, which is symptomatic of a warped system, but, rather, the critical concern is also the entire testing industrial complex that is poisoning our schools. There are those who claim these standardized tests as they are currently being used are what strengthen our accountability system. But, I say that is misguided thinking coming from a bully pulpit that is using these tests in an effort to shamelessly control schools, teachers, parents, children, and entire communities.
My son is very conscientious child, and his teacher recently shared with me that he likes to think through things, loves to read, and is doing well. That brings this father much joy that what he is doing at school is the same what does at home. As I have told my two young boys, my other one, Alexander, who is in first grade, I have no interest in them focusing on getting an A. They don’t need that artificial burden.
Rather, what I am interested in is that they try their best, faithfully apply themselves, listen to the teacher, and question the teacher. There are two principal tasks of the teacher. First, a teacher must work diligently to tap into the natural curiosities a child brings to the class. Second, and perhaps most importantly, a central goal of the teacher is to inspire. Why? Because inspiration moves us. Inspiration is the fuel that feeds the learner to fall in love with learning. If and when a teacher does that, the world is a child’s oyster.
As I understand it, part I of PARCC is scheduled to take place March 16-20. During the course of the week, eight year old children will endure over 6 hours of testing. But of course, that is not enough of testing. Enter in Part II of PARCC, which will take place May 4-6 in which students will endure another 3 hours and 30 minutes of testing.
That is not to mention, that between that time ILeap will occur on April 14 and 15, where these same eight year old children will yet endure another 2 hours and 45 minutes of testing. And let’s not forget the Mock Testing that is to occur. Add up all those hours, and that comes to over 11 hours of testing. In a span of three months, an 8 year old will spend more hours subjected to standardized testing, which translates more than what I withstood throughout my entire K-12 schooling experience.
Of course, this does not include the months of testing practice, testing talk, and as we get closer to testing days we will have balloon send offs, pep rallies, and the like. These dog and pony shows are really not for students, but for the adults involved in the system who are under tremendous pressure, running on scared on how they will be judged by this perverted system. Perhaps, as the thinking goes, if we have a pep rally, the child will be “motivated” to do well on the test, and then our school will get a good grade. After all isn’t education all about ratings, scores, and percentages.
But, it doesn’t stop there. We tell children to get enough sleep, eat right, and frighten the daylights out of them on how important these tests are. What I speak is not hyperbole; this is reality.
As a result of this fabricated environment, young children are unnecessarily under great stress, fearful, dealing with bouts of panic, crying spells, apathy, sleeplessness, and depression, playing havoc on their self-worth and motivation, ultimately equating that schooling is simply about passing a test, leading some to even drop out. And the most affected are the poor, the ones without a voice. Make no mistake, these created conditions fall right in the lap of policy makers, many of whom chief among them sit on BESE, and enforced by the school board such as this one, and applauded by many others holding public office.
Evidently, BESE has become so blind to the poison they are injecting into our youth that they don’t even see our children anymore. Peter Sacks is spot on in his brilliant book, Standardized Minds (1999), “The accountability crusade has been dramatic and emotionally wrenching for many, and yet it operates with utter, bureaucratic coldness” (p.68)…. Regarding her son’s achievement on a standardized test, one parent put it this way: “Teachers were mesmerized by the numbers…They were in awe of him. Because he did so well on the test, in a way they didn’t see him. They saw him as his test scores” (p. 65).
For the last approximate 20 years, Education Week, publishes an annual Quality Counts State by State Report Card. What did Louisiana receive this year on K-12 Achievement? D- (49th in the nation). Every year for the past near two decades, the state of Louisiana has been hovering in that score range. And every year, we then predictably respond with more of the same rhetoric that centers around preparing for standardized tests. Except each year it becomes more heightened, more emphasized, more high stakes, and a whole lot sicker.
This is madness. I imagine all of us are familiar with the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. This definition is credited to Albert Einstein, who, by the way, would have been labeled a failure in an era of high stakes testing.
And speaking of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and now moving into Race to the Top Program, which is linked to Common Core and PARCC, Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the most respected education scholars in the nation, puts it this way, “After 13 years of federally mandated annual testing, how could anyone still believe that testing will improve instruction and close achievement gaps?” (http://dianeravitch.net/2015/01/12/why-did-civil-rights-groups-demand-standardized-testing/)
Well, I don’t, Dr. Ravitch. Excellent teachers, don’t. A plethora of concerned parents, don’t. And, high achieving countries, don’t. But, obviously, Dr. Ravitch, it appears that many policymakers in the state of Louisiana still do.
Let’s be clear, standardized testing has extraordinarily narrowed the curriculum, even has dumbed it down, impelling teachers to simply focus on prescribed areas of certain disciplines that will be tested. As a consequence, the arts in all its forms have greatly been deprived; the same for physical education; social studies and the sciences have received less attention; and, particularly for the very young, the idea of play and recess has been dismissed as frivolous. Clearly, the joy of learning is being systematically sucked out of curious children in a schooling environment that is riddled with fear (Solley, 2007).
Of course, assessment has its place in school. That is not being questioned here. And the ultimate goal of assessment is to improve teaching and learning. But, when it comes to our obsession with standardized tests, they have not only harmed quality teaching and meaningful learning, but also have chased good teachers away.
This is not to mention, the costs of them, so much so that the standardized testing industrial complex is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. We often hear that school systems are short of monies. My response to that is, no; they are short of priorities in which many dollars, much time, and much energy places its trust in the testing industry.
In the final analysis, it is no wonder, therefore, that numerous professional organizations, educators, and researchers from all over the world have admonished such a system. But more importantly, a sleeping giant called parents are waking up to this madness, and proclaiming, “Enough!” And that is why I am here.
Many will say, okay, what is the solution. I understand that. And there is no one solution, no one silver bullet, but collectively there are alternatives. However, before talking solutions, we need to be sure that there is an awareness of a problem.
Particularly among many in policy making positions, it appears that awareness is as dim as a small pen flashlight running on a weak battery. Many don’t see the problem. One can’t work on solutions, until awareness is more forcefully illuminated. And once that happens, the lighted path toward solutions will be guided by what can be.
In the end, our current system fundamentally functions by promoting competition, which inherently fosters a system of winners and losers, a system in which some are in and some are out. This kind of system is perpetual.
However, on the other hand, I don’t view a system of schooling as one that is steered by competition; rather, I view schooling as an endeavor in which learning is the focal point, in which cooperation and collaboration is the anchor, and in which the entire community works in concert to transform its citizenry.
In closing, it is for these reasons and others my son will be opting out of this testing madness. Parents all over the country are opting out, including a growing number in Louisiana. In addition, teachers all over the country are also joining forces, and saying enough and are refusing to administer something they know is developmentally inappropriate.
I strongly urge parents all over this parish to join me, to join the chorus of parents around this state, and proclaim enough, and opt out. I urge my colleagues at Southeastern Louisiana University, Louisiana State University, and other universities to speak out more forcefully, and say enough.
As I see it, we have two choices here: We can either continue to submit to the narrative of an unqualified state superintendent, a power hungry Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and an out of control testing industry, all of which is backed by corporate greed, in an effort that arrogantly promotes a system that is poisoning our youth….or….We can listen to the voices of scholars who have conducted thoughtful research, consider the position statements of numerous educational organizations, listen to the voices of thousands of teachers, and pay attention to the crying out of our youngsters, all of whom are saying enough, urging a different direction…I choose the latter every single time. Thank you.
Sacks, P. (1999). Standardized minds. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Solley, B. A. (2007). On standardized testing: An ACEI position paper. Childhood Education, 84(1), 31-37.
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