In the last few weeks there has been an explosion in the #OptOutLouisiana movement led by parents. On February 2, the St. Tammany School Board conducted a special meeting to appoint an interim school board member to fill the vacant seat of Ronnie Panks who passed away. Added to the agenda was a discussion regarding the school board's position on parental requests to Opt Out of our state assessment identified as PARCC.
The unanimous position of the board was to send a letter to BESE requesting an emergency meeting to discuss their assignment of consequences to schools when students opt out and to again express their desire to end the PARCC test. This is the St. Tammany Resolution.
This St. Tammany teacher sent this letter to the school board on February 1. While our school board has opposed Race To The Top, Common Core and PARCC for some time, it certainly must have been moved by this teacher's testimony.
I invite ALL St. Tammany teachers to speak out. There will obviously be no repercussions. Our school board needs your support!
February 1, 2015
Good Evening, Mr. Folse and School Board Members,
I am writing to you this morning to express feelings that I’ve had for some time regarding PARCC testing and Common Core State Standards as they relate to my own children in the school system.
First off, please let me express the pride I have had over the years of being an employee of the St. Tammany Parish School System, and the gratitude I have for all of the hard work from children, parents, support staff, teachers, administrators, and district leaders that goes into making ours an excellent school system for kids, and a great place to work.
I have four sons in the St. Tammany Parish school system. They are in first grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, and a senior in high school. My children have attended Cypress Cove, Honey Island, Tchefuncte Middle, Little Oak Middle, Boyet Jr. High, and Northshore High School. They have been very fortunate to participate in the gifted program, and in our wonderful Talented Arts Program. My husband and I have invested our careers in this system as teachers and school leaders. I am currently the resource helping teacher at Cypress Cove, and my husband is the principal at Tchefuncte Middle School. We are also scholars of education leadership, and follow issues both on the local and national levels.
I am compelled to write because I am, as of now, strongly considering opting my children out of all PARCC testing. As the testing coordinator of my school, I have had the opportunity to participate in testing workshops and trainings offered by the parish. I have been researching this test and the policies, development, administration, and scoring of it for months. I am verysuspicious of what we are calling the PARCC test, which is planned for Louisiana students. I have been in touch with Pearson and DRC in an attempt to learn more about our version of this test, with no success. Both companies have remanded me to the state department of education, which will not address my questions regarding opting out, the absence of a relationship between Louisiana and Pearson (the exclusive publisher of the PARCC test), and the how Louisiana will procure PARCC questions, since we have no contract with Pearson. Instead, I received a threatening email from the state suggesting that my children would be considered truant if they did not participate in testing. I have no intention of keeping my children home from school during testing days. This communication by the state seemed to me to be a “smoke and mirrors” strategy designed to intimidate and distract, and I found it offensive.
I am suspicious of this test because my understanding is that it has been developed and field tested here in Louisiana. How can a test field tested and developed in Louisiana possibly be comparable to the testing and achievement of children around the country in states who truly are members of the PARCC consortium?
Another question that I struggle with is the assumed assignment of zeros for students who do not participate in testing. While I understand this will have no bearing on the individual child, the assignment of any score other than a null seems to me specifically designed to skew data and create the appearance of failure. I have had the good fortune of working with some brilliant statisticians during my dissertation research, and I could never have gotten through the IRB process if I had chosen to assign numeric scores of any kind to non-participants. To do so is to create a worthless, manipulated, false data set. If this is indeed what will occur in Louisiana, I feel these intentionally created, bad results would be used to inform educational policy and practice with disastrous outcomes for our students. If this is the practice that is to be used in our state, please understand that it is unethical, immoral, unfair, and plain junk science. The only purpose I can see for such despicable practice is to undermine and dismantle public education, demoralize and devalue teachers, and bully parents, children, and school systems into participating in shady PARCC testing. Teachers, who have no control of parents’ choices, and who receive low VAM scores as the result of this terrible system will suffer real consequences that will affect their morale, professional reputations, income, and future prospects in our industry. We can certainly do better for the hard-working, talented men and women who teachour children and care for them each and every day.
I have other questions which I’ve been mulling over:
What is this bad testing costing our taxpayers? Is this a wise use of resources when over half of our children are living in poverty and have real needs that this testing will not address?
Are parents going to be given more information regarding their rights to opt out? It is my belief that we may see many parents who choose not to have their children participate in testing.
Who benefits when our schools and teachers are unfairly portrayed as failing?
Finally, how did any of us ever become critically thinking, literate adults and successful, ethical individuals without excessive testing in our formative years? My understanding is that our children will be expected to participate in more testing time than I spent on Ph.D. level comprehensive exams, with no valid research to support such practice. I would guess that the readers of this letter cannot attribute their current life or career success to any test that they took as a 10 year old child. Instead, your success might come from the encouragement and support from others who cared about you, your curiosity, creativity, leadership skills, persistence, and communication skills, in addition to academic success. We are only measuring a tiny fraction of what our teachers help children learn when we rely so heavily on any standardized test, and that is a grave disservice to everyone.
Will the BESE board collaborate with one another and have the moral fortitude to do what is right for our children and educators by eliminating the misleading letter grading for schools, the terrible plan of assigning zeros, the inappropriate Common Core Standards, and the shady LA PARCC test?
I am considering opting my children out of testing because I feel that this “test” is bad science which will not serve their needs. I believe that it has the potential to harm them. I am a passionate supporter of public education. As a teacher, mother, and school leader, I will not have my children take part in practices which I believe are designed to undermine public education, my profession, and the profession of my colleagues.
I am very sad that the leaders of our state would work to actively punish my children’s teachers, who are my friends, and the wonderful schools in our district because of parents’ decisions, over which they have no control. Our schools exist to meet the needs of our children, not the other way around.
Finally, I am compelled to ask you, Mr. Folse, and the School Board how you will work to support and protect your hard-working and dedicated employees like me when they choose to make choices based on their children’s welfare, rather than the needs of the state.
I understand that policies regarding testing are changing daily, and that there is a great deal of uncertaintly. I urge the School Board and the leaders of our state and school system to take strong action regarding these issues.
In my opinion, we should eliminate all testing this year. It has been, and continues to be a debacle. Not testing for one year, so we can prepare more thoughtfully for future assessments will have no ill or lasting effect on our students, and will certainly relieve our teachers, who continue to struggle with the uncertainty of the state of testing in Louisiana. If testing were eliminated for one year, imagine the thousands of dollars that could be saved. I’m sure the teachers of our parish could think of some great uses for that money with real, meaningful, and positive impact on our children. Imagine how it would resonate for the teachers to hear our leaders say to them: “You know what is best. We trust your expertise and professionalism. Please let us support you so that you have the time and resources to do what you are trained to do, and help your students learn in the ways that are best for them.”
I will continue to follow the actions of BESE, our state leaders, and our local school boards with great interest.
Thank you for all that you do for the children of St. Tammany Parish.
Jessica Stubbs, Ph.D.