Please Opt Out: A letter from a Centerville City Schools Teacher

An Open Letter to Ohio’s Board of Education, Department of Education, Legislators, and Parents

Dear Ohio’s Board of Education members, Department of Education officials, legislators, and most importantly, Ohio’s parents:

I am a 20-year teaching professional in Ohio and after reading the recent release from the Ohio Department of Education’s “Information on Student Participation on Testing”; I was flabbergasted by the intent of the release. Why? Because the release was written in attempt to bully parents, teachers, and school districts into compliance with standardized testing that has the highest of stakes attached to it. I have taught my middle-schoolers that bullies must be confronted. Therefore, this letter is intended to outline why I, even with my job clearly being threatened in this release, still am encouraging parents to refuse state-mandated standardized tests for their children.

First and foremost, refusing to allow your child to participant in state testing is a parental right guaranteed by the 14th amendment and broadly protected by the Supreme Court (see Meyer and Pierce cases). The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the 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” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35). The Supreme Court 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, 402.). In Meyer, the Supreme Court held 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 (262 U.S. 399).

Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, Ohio’s children are being used as fodder in a system that takes their time and talents for the advancement of corporatization of schools and the profit that they will produce for testing companies. When we stop to think about the amount of monies we as a state put into standardized testing (not just the cost of the test, but also the grading, the professional development, the materials needed, the time spent prepping, the technology needed, the people employed to maintain only the test taking technology – the list is never ending), we as a state are being asked to invest more and more into tests that are devaluing your students and your public schools. Testing costs us all, but costs the students so much more. It devalues them by putting an entire emphasis on one aspect of them and risks their self-esteem – for what gains? I could spend the entirety of this letter showing Supreme Court case precedents, research that proves the harms of standardized tests to children, and the invalidity of Value-Added measures by most research institutes including the American Statistical Association, but instead will try to focus on what I have witnessed in the field.

The reality is this: As a teaching professional, I have had the ability to direct the education of your child taken away from me by the detrimental educational reform policies that are enacted through the use of high stakes testing. I ask that parents exercise their parental rights, because I, as your child’s teacher can no longer guide their education in the way that I see best. Although I know your child and am with your child each and every day (not to mention that I have been awarded a National Board Certification for Professional Teaching and earned my PhD); I cannot fend off the curriculum of high stakes testing that has taken over my ability to give your child the curriculum that they deserve and that I know is the best. I say this knowing that I am one of the most fortunate teachers in the state, because I work in an amazing district that works hard not to acquiesce to the tests. My district does not believe in having extra practice workbooks or online diagnostics and actually supports the work of their teachers. Even in this environment, the curriculum of high stakes testing has taken over our classrooms.

Here’s another unfortunate reality: Even in the best districts, the tests have shaped what a teacher teaches. Why is that? Because it would be criminal for me to not prepare your child for what they are about to encounter. We would never place an infant on their feet and let go without first giving them experiences with crawling, pulling themselves up or down on sturdy furniture, and allowing them to wrap their fingers around ours as they take tentative steps on their own. The same is true with testing. Why as a teacher would I not try to give my students the best shot possible on the tests? If it were just the tests, that would be one thing, but it is also the New Ohio Learning Standards that have been imposed on teachers. These standards were not written by Ohio teachers as they have been in the past, but instead first by a committee made up of mostly testing company representatives and then given to a group of teachers at a national level to “advise” this initial committee. We keep being told that standards are not curriculum, but standards do drive our curriculum – they in essence decide what is important for your child to know, understand, and do. Anyone who purports that the standards are not curriculum, has not been teaching for the last 5 years. What your child needed to know, understand and do was once the responsibility of the teacher with guidance from the state and with the input of the child and parent. The type of standardization we have today misses some very important aspects of the child including developmental abilities, nuances of who they are as a learner, and the curiosities of your child to name just a few. To plan, prepare and execute these standards lessons and preparing for possible questions on the standardized tests, the activities that I once did with children are no longer possible. If you’ve had children in the same school with the same teachers over the last 5-10 years, you have seen this firsthand yourself. First came the loss of field trips that once were part of the school’s culture and rites of passage. Then came the end to problem-based and community-based learning projects, along with class celebrations of learning. Soon school became less a community of learners and instead a place that was more and more worried about how your child has scored on standardized tests. Part of this was due to the lack of funds available for these activities that instead went to test related spending and the other part was due to the loss of time due to new standardized activities we had to do so your child is prepared and not ambushed by the test. I don’t blame teachers or schools, it has become the business of schooling and as outlined in the release from the Department of Education, our jobs and school funding are being threatened into spending our two most valuable resources (time and money) to prepare for it.

So, the bottom line is this: I ask that you stand with me and in support of me (and your child’s teacher), by exercising your right to refuse. It will allow me to go back to directing your child’s education based on their actual needs, not on the needs of the test or a testing company. I say this to you knowing that it will most likely hurt my evaluation. But know this, the testing is ALREADY hurting me and your child so much more. I am willing to take the harshest of punishments doled out by the state, so your child no longer has to be punished daily. Why am I willing to do this? Because I have been forced to be a bystander to this bullying in the past. I have watched over the years as children have cried because they don’t understand a word that is on the test and I am not allowed to help. I have watched children get physically sick because they are worried about how their parents will view them after they see their scores. I have watched as 8 year olds ask if they can bring stress balls into the testing environment (I’m pretty sure that we as adults did not have these concerns when we were 8). I have watched as students beg not to have to take a test that makes them feel so stupid. I have watched as student incidences of seeing counselors due to school anxiety issues rise during testing periods. These are but a few of the things I have witnessed as results of high-stakes testing. I can no longer be a bystander. I cannot in all good consciousness continue to watch our kids being bullied without standing up. Take shots at me, I’m an adult, and I can handle it, but stop allowing the state to take shots at our children by refusing to give them the data they need to continue to bully us all.

Sincerely,
Dr. Jocelyn Weeda
PhD Miami University – Educational Leadership, Curriculum, and Culture
Nationally Board Certified Middle Childhood Specialist
Grade 6 – 8 Science Teacher, Centerville City Schools

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35 thoughts on “Please Opt Out: A letter from a Centerville City Schools Teacher

    • My understanding is district, teacher, and student will all be negatively affected by refusing. Thank you Dr. Weeda. As a parent in your district, this certainly makes me think.

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      • The school loses money for every opt out but parents have the Constitutional right to opt their children out of high stakes state testing with no fear of repercussion. The public education bureaucrats at the local, state and fderal lever are the bullies and the students, teachers and parents are the victims.

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  1. Amen!!!! My son has PARCC testing the end of the month and his anxiety is out of this world!! there is no sence is making a child so afraid of taking a test that he pukes and hyper ventilates weeks in advance of the test. all they keep saying is you gotta do good on the test.. you gotta do good… well not every child is the same.. some have issues but you all are lumping them all in the same category. not once has my son just been told just do your best… except by me. sad where the schooling is headed these days.

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    • I’m having an issue with my kids’ school as well, I even cited the two court cases mentioned in this article but they are so old that the school is refusing to accept them. My son is highly stressed over these tests, he doesn’t do well on tests as it is and he knows it. It ought to be considered emotional abuse when it affects a child this strongly to force them into something like this.

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  2. Said perfectly. I am a retired elementary school teacher who have grandchildren in this situation. All the fun of learning is now gone, for both the student and the teacher.

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  3. Until more parents see what’s going on in there childens class room and more demand an end to never ending testing Washington and Columbus will continue down this path.

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  4. Sadly, many parents HAVE sent letters to the Ohio Board of Education and they go ignored. My son actually got a petition together last year to ask them to not issue the PARCC testing (he was in 5th grade) and sent it to the Columbus. This, too, went ignored. What can we do but abide? I don’t want my kids college perspectives to be limited due to failure to take these ridiculous and unnecessary tests….

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    • Colleges don’t care how a student does on any standardized test besides the ACT or SAT. Considering the first year or two of most college experiences includes liberal arts requirements and the mandatory math/English/history classes, most of which is refreshers from high school, you and your child shouldn’t worry about how these tests will affect their college perspectives.

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  5. Great article but you don’t explain how parents can opt out. Who do I speak to in my school district? My son’s teacher just told me this today at his parent teacher conference.

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  6. As a special education teacher, I applaud you and fully agree with everything you say. I have students reading no where near grade level who must take these tests. Thank you for standing up for their rights.

    Michelle Creech, Intervention Specialist

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  7. Good for you, Dr. Weeda! I attended Normandy Elementary and Hadley Watts Middle School and now teach third grade. I applaud your courage!

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  8. Great article. I hate the idea of my kids taking these tests, it does nothing for them in the long run. Its all because some senator’s brother-in-law owns a testing company (just speculating here :)) These tests have nothing to do with our kids, but everything to do with someone making a gob of cash.

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  9. Dr. Weeda, I commend your bravery and appreciate the conviction with which you express your beliefs and share your experiences. I would like to offer another perspective, though. I am also a teacher in the currently untested field of visual arts and parent of two elementary children. At their socioeconomically diverse, suburban school, my children have gone on almost yearly field trips while in elementary school, they enjoy school and have frequent classroom and school wide celebrations to reward behavior and academic successes, and the school has even implemented a school-wide program to develop and strengthen leadership skills. Even this year, with PARCC testing looming over their heads, the 5th grade teachers have not allowed the testing to overshadow what they teach, how they teach it, and how they behave in their classroom. My child’s 5th grade teacher shared with me how students begin class by reading several quotes and writing a reflective, response to their favorite one, they have been reading The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon to encourage positive thoughts and behaviors with their peers and in life, and they continue to celebrate students success with frequent class parties. While the teachers are surely inwardly stressed and concerned about The Tests, they are not allowing it to consume their classroom, affect their students, or dictate everything that they teach. I have gotten much information from our principal regarding the upcoming PARCC tests, and at no point have I ever received the message that this is a high stakes test and that parents or our children should be worried about the outcomes. Perhaps it is the way that she has shared the testing information with parents, focusing on what we can do, rather than what is out of our control; encouraging us to simply let our children know that they will do fine and to just do their best; to stay calm and positive and lead our children by example to not create additional stress or anxiety. I am not advocating for or against the tests, but am sharing my experience that not all teachers have lost all control of what and how they teach; schools can still offer field trips and create a positive environment for the learning of many things outside of what is tested; and students can still enjoy school in the face of standardized tests.

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    • Just because one child does fine does not mean all children will do fine. My daughter is brilliant and would no doubt have no issue with these tests, however I will be opting her out because it takes more than one to change something. By allowing your child to take the test you are condemning another child to fail.

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  10. Dr. Weeda makes some excellent points, but comes to an incomplete conclusion IMO. Her letter isn’t just a great argument against standardized testing, it is an excellent start to a dialog for educational reformation. Rather than continue a broken design that attempts to fit a single educational standard to every child in the state or country, we should be discussing how children, all with differing needs, life goals, and learning styles can best be educated. We are no longer a fledgling state that can only financially support a single educational system, as was the case that developed the current monolithic public school system. Our society can not only afford to support, but would also benefit from the privatization of eduction (funding reallocation by student). My teacher friends and family, please do not read this as a verdict on your performance – with your hand’s tied it is completely inappropriate to score or compensate you based on standardize test performance.

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  11. My granddaughter is in third grade this year, we decided to homeschool her this year. Last year her anxiety was so bad she was sick almost everyday.Blood work , trips to Children’s and doing a Kidney Biopsy. Then the results were determined she has Intestenial Miagraines.From the stress of school.Let’s stop these crazy test and start teaching the children the basics.No cursive writing? How are our children suppose to sign their name.

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  12. I suffer from great anxiety in my life, but this doesn’t make testing wrong. I hate being assessed and compared, but this doesn’t make it wrong. As in every industry there are standards and best practices, which everyone struggles to meet, but that doesn’t make them bad. There is fear, but that is not logic. Evidence based medicine is better than one MD’s knowledge and experience…same for the classroom? Whether you believe it or not you use your own standards, so why not expose this to some transparency in how well it’s working.

    Where does the US education system rank in the world in the critical skills of math and science? Is this because of your freedom to do what you want and not be gauged against a standard or transparency of the actual benefits of your style and approach?
    Maybe I don’t understand the problem…are state tests bad because they have not been properly designed or professionally reviewed by peers? I don’t believe it’s a cost or time issue either. I’m not sure the arguments listed would stand up in a Logic course or to a Critical Thinking course, however the emotional argument is powerful. This does no good to our children in the long run by the so called protection of the children from standardized testing (not withstanding again the possible argument that the test is somehow flawed, or irrelevant in someway that is not explained in the letter).
    In corporate America, and around the world, there are standards of practice, best practices, and evidence based rules, that are the process of continuous improvement. Everything exists in a system, the question is how good is it. A standard is not the enemy of flexibility or autonomy, that concern has been answered many times and is invalid as a criticism.
    All I see in this argument is the fear of a government system, in which our system resides. To think that schools are the antithesis of this while being protected from critique and review is asking for protection that is not afforded anywhere outside the of the classroom.
    Prepare them for the anxiety, teach them to deal, give them failures to learn the critical life skills or perseverance and determination. That will be as important as anything else they need to learn.

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    • Part of the problem with our national ranking is that we test EVERY student. Other countries test only those in college prep schools. If we only tested the top 1/3 of our students, our scores and ranking would go way up. The scores end up skewed as a result and we then make educational decisions base on bad information.

      Furthermore, much of the research on best practices in education points AGAINST an excessive amount of testing, standardized or otherwise. It DOES point to increased physical activity, non-processed foods, smaller class sizes, and developmentally appropriate tasks and standards. Those are the things schools give up to support and sponsor test prep and administration.

      I think also that you may be misunderstanding the use of the word “standards” as it relates to education. Standards are specific lists of skills and/or concepts to be taught at certain grade levels. They are issued by the state departments of education and are available to the public on those organizations’ websites. In education, “standards” are not a measure of quality of teaching, but the specific material teachers are obligated to teach. Teachers do not “use their own standards,” to quote you, we use the ones issued to us by the state. We do not have the freedom to teach whatever we want to teach.

      As for the quality of the tests, they are thoroughly inspected by education experts, but many of those experts have little practical experience in the classroom. Think of them like doctors who do research but do not see patients: they can tell a lot about cancer, but don’t know how cancer patients think, feel, behave, react, express themselves or cope with the disease.

      I totally agree with your last paragraph, although I would argue there are more effective and appropriate circumstances to do that in than standardized tests.

      Additionally, kudos for writing a measured response and being open to hearing other points of view. Thank you for that.

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  13. Although my family does not live in Ohio, I admire your courageous loyalty to their children. I am hoping and praying many more teachers, parents, and school administrators view this inspirational letter. If you don’t mind….I would love to borrow a couple of your notes for a letter to my childs school. You will NEVER regret letting parents know the truth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my childrens. May God Bless You Over and Beyond!

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  14. Young students need to first learn how to process information. Concrete thinking is developed in the beginning stages of education so they can later learn to infer. Young thinkers do not have the experiences to provide inference and layered information-based answers. I have seen the examples of PARCC Assessment strategies and I can tell you it is complex. Mind you,many kids are coming to school with non-educational menucia on their daily survival agendas, let alone being asked to solve quadratic mathematics in first grade. All the while jockeying back and forth between screen fields to write-in an explanation of how you came to the conclusion of such a response. Oh, to be a six year old!

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  15. Pingback: Educators taking sides on 3rd grade reading test | WDTN

  16. Pingback: Education Officials Warn Of ‘Consequences’ If Parents Opt Out Of Standardized Testing - Ohio news

  17. Thank you for bringing up the folly of the hyper-obsession with testing to the detriment of learning. As a person who advocates helping children learn to express themselves through multiple intelligences, this myopia on testing eliminates the opportunity to allow children to develop as three-dimensional people. Art, music, gym, recess, even time for reading or mental processing, has to be driven out of the classroom for the voracious appetite of testing. Let’s bring some common sense and balance back to the classroom and let our gifted and passionate teachers connect with their students and teach, not test. Just my two cents….

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  18. Thank you for this splendid analysis! As the parent of two students who will be PARCC tested I came to the conclusion that it may be best for my young children just to go along with the crazy PARCC testing in next (weeks) months, but to refuse this nonsense in coming years. I also want to mention that I told my offspring just to draw some funny cartoon rabbits onto the testing sheets in case they don’t know an answer or feel too uncomfortable. The best way to counter such insanity is to insist on all our God given right to be stupid, or at least to develop some educational dementia already in younger years.

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  19. Pingback: The cost of Common Core & PARCC: an open letter to parents and state legislators - No Stress in 2015

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