“Apart from the Medicare Prescription Drug Act and the lucrative war and homeland security cash flows, the Bush administration engineered the No Child Left Behind Act, largely as a sop to the school privatization industry and the educational testing racket…”
Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.
I usually provide excerpts but this post needs to be read in full. If you haven’t already, you should read The Weekly Update: Eli Broad’s how-to guide on closing schools and disaster capitalism up close and personal to give you some context. This is how far school administrations have gone with this push for test scores and how students get the big picture.
Hello my name is Leslie Leon. I am an 18 year old senior at Gage Park High School on Chicago Southwest side. I was born in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Imlay city, Michigan. My parents only wanted the best for my family, therefore we moved to Michigan for a safer life. My parents decided to move back to my hometown in 2010. My life took a whole “U” turn. Everything was different, I couldn’t adjust to it. Before Gage Park I used to love going to school eager to learn and make the most out of my high school life. Coming to Gage Park I slowly started to feel fear to go to school because of the surroundings.
It wasn’t until this year that I began to feel alarmed being inside the school. I don’t like this feeling. When I walk through the halls I have to constantly watch my back. This is something I shouldn’t be feeling and this problem has a solution. No student should ever feel terror in a learning environment.
We, the students, need to be heard that we fear for our safety and something should be done.
On this Tuesday, March 5, dozens of other Gage Park seniors and I were sitting in a test room forced to stay there for a voluntary test most of us refused to take. Sitting there made me want to get up in front of the class and inform every single one of the few students who were trying to take the test that we were being lied to. As the proctor and our administrators tried to bully us into taking this “voluntary” test, all I kept thinking was “do they really think we are that dumb?” The word that hung in my mind was “unfair”. I wanted to return to my regular classroom and learn. I felt the pangs of hunger grow in my stomach. I my head down and I waited for time to pass by to finally leave that testing room, but in my heart, I knew it was the right thing–it is right to resist people who are treating us badly.
I thought student safety was supposed to be every school’s first priority. This year at Gage, it feels like a total afterthought. We have had multiple “lockdowns” after not having any for years. Police have been summoned to the building in response to a fight without weapons, and they brought M-4 assault rifles they pointed at our classmates. Six teachers have been assaulted this year. Like most years, we have lost classmates to community violence. But this year, the school did not even acknowledge their lives at all. It was like they were nothing.
Most recently, it’s been almost impossible to learn these past two weeks in Gage Park as we sit in a culture of fear. There have been 2 “incidents”–as the school has called them and the school refused to inform the school community until well after the incidents were covered in the local media. On February 20, 2013, a 15 year-old girl with a learning disability was allegedly coerced into performing a sex act in the music room. Both male alleged perpetrators were held in lieu of $350,000 bail for aggravated criminal sexual assault. Neither the parents nor the students were informed about this incident. The next week on February 26, 2013 the second “incident” occurred. Another girl was sexually assaulted in the girls’ washroom, due to lack of security on the second floor; two guys went in and fondled her. Again, no one was informed not even the teachers. In fact, the young woman was told to “keep it quiet” and her parents were not informed. She told a female staff member who encouraged her to get help for the situation. When she contacted authorities, the event was covered on the news and that was how the most of the community found out about it. Two days after the assault, parents received automated phone calls and a letter was sent home explaining next-to-nothing except that an “incident had occurred”.
Every student deserves to know critical information about their own safety and no one should be denied support after being attacked in a ploy to cover up the attack. This is not right.
Many rumors have grown about the students who were attacked. The silence of the administration keeps us from having positive conversations that would help prevent people from blaming the victims.
Angered by this several students have begun circulating a petition about student safety that already has almost 20% of the students signing it.
While the school showed no concern towards students’ safety, they instead were concerned about testing. They constantly talk about our need to raise test scores. This week we were forced to attend a test called the NAEP. Sixty plus students from the senior class were chosen at random to take the test, and multiple message were sent to students to encourage students to take the test, while no student was informed about the reason why or really given a true choice to take it despite it being optional. Those chosen were bribed with two movie discount passes and one-and-a-half service learning hours for graduation despite there being no learning or benefit for the community and the head of service learning saying that the hours would not count because the test is not a real service learning activity.
So we acted. We talked to other seniors and got them to wear black and taught them about how they didn’t have to take the test. We told them that this wasn’t a service learning opportunity, and that the NAEP scores might be used against schools like ours. We talked through texting and social media.
On the day of the test, we were called out of class to attend the test. Some of my classmates refused to come. We went to the location and we told the test proctor that we didn’t want to take the test and asked if we could return to our regular classes. She said, “No” and just told us to go into the testing rooms and sit down. Once we got settled, she explained the rules (no talking, no cell phone, etc). There was a student who asked about the service hours and how many we were going to receive, but the lady never answered it. All she said was “I’ll get to that in a minute.” at the end of the test people who participated got one hour and a half of service hours. We came to a conclusion that she probably never answered the questions because it would only give us another reason to not take the test therefore she hid the information from us and try to get around the situation. What was more important: being honest to us and helping us make our own decisions or pushing us to take the test at all costs.
There was one student in the testing room who actually was trying on the test. Six students just circled any answer, guessing throughout the whole test. One student just drew on the booklet. The rest of us just sat there waiting for the test to be over since we were not allowed to return to class. I was asked why I wasn’t taking the test and I simply said “Because you can’t get service learning hours for taking a test.” The proctor replied, “Yes, you can. The federal government is paying for all this and they give you the hours.” I ended up sitting for 95 minutes.
When we spoke to students in the other testing room, they had been treated even worse. An administrative staffer was blackmailing and threatening the students, “If you do not cooperate, activities like prom and senior luncheon may be terminated.” She also said that she would no longer do any “favors” for any students. Students who refused loudly were kicked out of the exam area, only for school administration to have a ten to fifteen minute long talk which ended with them coming back in to have to take the test.
When the test was over, we were finally allowed to return to our classes, but the students who took the test were called down to eat lunch ordered from Subway paid for by the school. The students who boycotted who had already missed their lunch had to go without food. We have heard that we may miss more classes on Friday as they attempt to force this voluntary test on us again.
Gage Park’s main priority should be the students’ safety instead of making 60 students take an unnecessary test or trying to raise other test scores. No student or staff should feel fear when coming to school. School should be a place where students should be able to learn in a safe environment! Our lives are worth more than test scores.
Update: Yesterday, 100 students, including the authors of this post, walked out of classes and went to demand action at the Local School Council meeting. I will provide details when they become available.
Leslie Leon and Yoseling Cueto are Seniors at Gage Park High School on Chicago’s South Side.
In Colorado, students are opting out of testing for different reasons.
WHAT : Colorado students standing up for our education
WHEN : March 14th, 2013 from 11am – 2:30pm
WHERE : West Steps of the Colorado State Capitol
On February 23rd, students gathered to discuss what is wrong with the current education system and how they could get their voices heard. From there, the students developed an action plan to have their voices heard.
We, the students, are standing up for our education. We no longer want to be part of the cookie-cutter system where everyone is taught the same and forced to take a standardized test that we memorize answers to, making us products of the public education assembly line.
In the past few years, the Colorado State Legislature has passed bills to change how our schools are evaluated. In result, schools have been labeled “Turnaround status” or have been shut down. Students have been confined to their desks to learn certain knowledge for the sake of the test, while putting aside classes for life-skills.
Teachers have to comply to the standardized test instead of teaching real-world experiences because if the school has low test scores it could result in them getting fired or their school shutting down. Starting next year, teacher salaries will be tied into students’ results on the TCAP.
March 14th is Defend Public Education Day. Students will participate by walking out of their classes or test on this day to make a stance and get their voices heard. Students will be gathering on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol to begin a peaceful protest to defend our education and ask for a better one. We believe that education should be a democracy not a dictatorship.
We encourage all students, parents, teachers, and citizens to join us as students stand up for our education. This will be the start of a revolutionary time where students will have a say in their educational rights.
Also in Colorado:
A statewide education coalition is encouraging parents to refuse to let their children take the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program exams.
The Coalition of Better Education recently had a billboard placed on Interstate 25 near the First Street exit telling parents to have their children opt out of the annual standards-based assessment program.
“We have four billboards that we have put up on highways in the state letting parents know about this injustice and that they do have rights,” said CBE spokesman Don Perl of Greeley.
TCAP, formerly the Colorado Student Assessment Program, assesses students in grades third through 10 in reading, writing and math. Students in grades five, eight and 10 also take a science exam.
In New York:
RED HOOK, N.Y. — The school board is considering whether to develop a policy that would allow parents to pull their children from standardized tests that measure teacher performance.
At a recent Board of Education discussion about so-called “high-stakes testing,” parent Jennifer Moyer was among several people who said students are unnecessarily being put under pressure to score well on the tests.
“I taught at a grade school, and we had a fabulous principal,” she said. “She was pressured, and then we were pressured, and so the kids were pressured. It was just a trickle-down.”
Moyer said the policy leads to poor education techniques in which students are taught to memorize material for tests instead of focusing on long-term retention of information.
“Talk about taking the joy out of teaching,” she said.
Standardized testing practices have changed with the new state requirement for districts to adopt an Annual Professional Performance Review program to evaluate teachers and curriculum.
Red Hook parent Bill Murray, who has a child in elementary school, said there needs to be a way for schools to take advantage of the reasons student like attending classes.
“We don’t want him to become a number in the game of the state trying to cram this stuff down your throat,” Murray said. “We put out students that are ready to go into the world. … Red Hook does a really good job of that, and we don’t need tests to prove it or categorize it.”
Parent Mary Ann Mullen said information should be provided about the amount of money being spent for substitute teachers while tests are being conducted and on test preparation. Mullen also said she is concerned the Red Hook district will lose beneficial practices that have been shown to help students.
An opt out letter written by a parent in New York State:
March 4, 2013
Thank you for all that you do for our school.
I am writing to respectfully inform you that my child, name, under my guardianship and advice, will be scored as a “refusal”, with a final score of “999” and a standard achieved code of 96, on all State testing including ELA, Math and Science as described in the NYS Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual on page 63. Please note that a “refusal” is not the same as “absent” as they are defined differently and scored with different standard achieved codes on page 63 of the SIRS Manual. Also note that on page 20 of the 2012 Edition School Administrator’s Manual it is explained that “The makeup dates are to be used for administering makeup tests to students who were ‘ABSENT’ during the designated administration dates.” My child will specifically be scored as a “refusal”, not “absent”, and therefore my child will continue to receive a free and appropriate public education in his/her regular classroom environment during the administration of all makeup test periods as this letter provides written verification of a “refusal” for all tests.
I would ask that the school please provide an alternative activity for my child during administrative sessions of testing (not makeup tests, as my child will be in his/her regular classroom environment). However, I understand that an alternative activity is not required on the part of the school. If you are unable to provide an alternative activity for my child I would ask that you please utilize the provision of the NYS Testing Program Educator Guide to the 2013 Common Core which, on page 9, explains “When Students Have Completed Their Tests….that student may be permitted to read silently.” I am reserving the option of removing my child from school during the test administration session depending on the emotional anxiety state of my child on the day of refusal and whether or not the school will provide an alternate activity for my child.
Thank you very much. I look forward to a great end of the school year.
And this from United Opt Out
Parental rights, especially in the area of education, are broadly protected by United States Supreme Court decisions. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925), the U.S. Supreme Court declared that, “The child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”;
In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the U.S. Supreme Court has further stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944);
The U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 401 (1923).
On a slightly different note, what happens with the test scores is that they are used not only as weapons of mass destruction, destroying the lives of teachers, students, schools and communities, the “data” is sold and traded as seen fit by people who we will never know. Our children’s information, much of it very personal and including test scores, is being stored and provided to companies to develop and sell products back to school districts. See: The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates, a national data bank, Wireless Gen…and FERPA? to get an idea of what’s happening in the state of Washington. What’s occurring in our state has already happened in New York, Los Angeles and wherever standardized tests have been rolled out and made mandatory.
Leonie Haimson on her blog Class Size Matters provided this opt out letter template to parents who want their children opted out of providing confidential information.
Subject: Opting out of sharing my child’s data
Dear Commissioner King: As a parent, I was appalled to learn, as a Reuters article confirms, that the NY State Education Department is planning to share the most private, confidential data of my child and all NYS public school students with a corporation called inBloom Inc., that will store this highly sensitive information on a vulnerable data cloud and disclose it to for-profit vendors.
This data will include children’s personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary records, health conditions, special education and economic status.
inBloom Inc. has already stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored…or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” All this is happening without parental notification or consent.
I hereby OPT my child’s data out of this plan, and demand that you do NOT disclose any of my child’s personally identifiable educational records with ANY third party, including the Gates Foundation, inBloom Inc. or ANY other private entity or corporation.
I DO NOT give my consent. Instead, I urge you to hold public hearings in NYC and throughout the state to explain the purpose of this project, offer all New York parents the right to consent, and inform the public who will be legally and financially responsible if this highly sensitive data leaks out or is used in an unauthorized fashion. I expect to hear back from you immediately as to whether you will honor my request to withhold my child’s private and confidential educational records.
If not, I will call your office until you do so. I am outraged at this plan which not only violates every ethical standard, but also your commitment as the state’s highest educational official to protect my child from harm.
Yours, [NAME & FULL ADDRESS];
Parent of [CHILD”S NAME, grade, school, town or borough]
There are several resources and places to share and provide information on opting your student out of standardized testing. To follow are a few websites and Facebook pages: