One of the most important and useful tools in any educators toolbox, as I explained in a post celebrating our daughter, MacKenzie, is giving youth the opportunity to say, “no.” That opportunity, however, is completely lacking according to all of the recent hyperbole, subterfuge, and misinformation circulating through the media about a child's and parent's right to refuse the New York State tests. This disregard for the truth is upsetting and frankly dangerous.
With that bold statement, I am bound to be accused of hyperbole myself. As you can probably guess, I have a story to go along with this point. When our son, Ian (who will be turning 21 in April) was in first grade, he encountered his first standardized testing experience. I can't remember the specifics, but I do remember that he didn't sleep for over two weeks because he was so completely stressed out about that math test. The same thing happened during the spring of 2nd grade, only this time he didn't sleep well for a month, and 3rd grade was a repeat performance with nightmares for six weeks. Every year, we offered comfort and assurance. We told him there was no reason for him to be anxious, however even at the age of six, he was not going to buy that line. He knew that those test scores held consequences, and of course he was right.
They are given weight that is disproportionate to their actual importance. They determine how teachers will interact with each student (depending upon their scores). They are the assessment tools used by the State to rank school districts and determine whether they are failing or not. They are used to assess teachers. They are used for everything that is bureaucratic and for nothing that has anything to do with actual education. They undermine real learning, because they stress the rote memorization of facts and figures instead of celebrating the exploration of the world.
Looking back these fifteen years later, I am embarrassed to say, we did not explore our rights as parents. We simply followed the crowd and did what we were told was best for our child. But of course, to borrow a really old and overused cliché, hindsight is always 20-20.
I would like to offer the following information for any parent who is questioning whether the tests are good for their child. These facts are from the website New York State Allies for Public Education which has been set up specifically for parents who want to learn their rights around high stakes testing. You can visit the website to download refusal templates and other important information.
You and your child can refuse the tests and Deep Root Center can help. Your child can spend those testing days exploring, building, creating and interacting with others in our safe, comfortable, resource filled learning environment. You can contact us directly for more information.
An addendum to the above tale includes Ian's continued disdain for standardized tests. He refused to take the SAT s with full knowledge that he was going to choose a college that was test optional, in fact Hampshire, the college he chose is not only test optional, it refuses to accept any standardized test scores, and they go so far as to incorporate this philosophy of no grades and no tests into their daily operations. As a third year student, Ian is thriving. This is a school that leads the way in innovative, creative thinking; instead of choosing majors, students explore their interests and follow them to create an intensive final project in their fourth year. Students are expected to participate fully in their education, it is intensive and highly intellectual. And, they do all this without tests!
In the interest of full disclosure, with the National Merit Scholarship as an incentive, as a Junior, Ian did take the PSAT. No, he didn't get it!