opt-out5 The public elementary schools we attended as children no longer exist. The buildings may be there, but everything else has changed. Why? Public education has been radically altered by the dictates of Clinton’s Goals 2000, Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and Obama’s Race to the Top. These changes have made elementary education almost unrecognizable to most adults.

Sure, kids still sit at desks, have rug time, and do worksheets. But the school nurse is long gone, unless the PTA can afford to keep her. The cafeteria ladies have been cut too. Now you’re lucky to have one, who no longer cooks meals. Most kids have never had access to an art teacher and only know about school counselors by watching television.

What’s most alarming is the emphasis to evaluate and sort children based on standardized test scores, specifically math and reading. Sure, growing up we took some bubble tests. But did we study for them? Were our schools at risk of losing funding or closure if we scored poorly?

No Child Left Behind was a turning point for public education.

Today children spend more and more time preparing for standardized tests. They practice getting their writing rubrics straight. They make sure the writing prompt is used as their topic sentence.

They do sheets and sheets of complicated math problems. They make sure every math problem is solved using the approved method and was checked using a second authorized method. Finally, they make sure each answer is written out using a complete sentence.

But here’s the cosmic kicker: all this hard work won’t help those already doomed to fail. Before a single 3rd grader takes the test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has predetermined that 35% will fail the English Language Arts/Literacy portion and 32% will fail the math. To add insult to injury, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will require a “principal/parent conferences for students not passing” the English Language Arts test.

Make no mistake, shaming 3rd graders isn’t just a district thing. This goes all the way to the top. Word has it, a bill will be re-introduced during this legislative session requiring all 3rd graders “who scores below basic on the state’s third grade English Language Arts (ELA) assessment may not be promoted to fourth grade unless the student meets a “good cause exemption.”

That’s right, nothing motivates kids like labeling them as failures. But in case these kids don’t get the message, the plan is to drive the point home by making them repeat 3rd grade.

So, what can be done to take back our public schools?

First, opt your child out of every single standardized test given during the school year. Remember, it doesn’t matter if your child is the only one who sits out the tests. Other parents will take notice, when they do, politely explain what you are doing. “No” is a powerful word. Use it.  Simply write your principal telling them you want your child not to take the standardized test (here is the list, it’s on page 3) and ask them to provide an alternative activity during the testing time. Provide a copy to the teacher who will be involved in administering the test.

Second, let your child’s teacher know you trust their professional judgement and understand they have your child’s best interest at heart. Explain that you believe their in class assessments have value, and will be the only tests your child will be taking during the school year.

Finally, read More Than A Score. There are many practical and inspirational stories about how parents, teachers, and communities have successfully organized against standardized testing. Once you finish the book, go out and do it.

Together we can stop the testing madness.

Carolyn Leith Parent of two children in Seattle Public Schools