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Opt-out movement reflects growing resistance to testing

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Last year, a handful of Philadelphia families balked at having their children sit for the high-stakes state standardized tests known as the PSSAs. This year, resistance to the tests is more widespread.

An effort led by teachers has spurred numerous families at the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences to opt out, according to Kelley Collings, a teacher at Feltonville and member of the Caucus of Working Educators. That group contends that “almost 20 percent” of children at Feltonville will sit out the test. If a school falls below 95 percent student participation on the PSSA, it could trigger state intervention under No Child Left Behind rules.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that school leadership was aware “there is lobbying from at least one teacher asking parents to exercise the option to opt out,” but at press time said that the school had received no letters to that effect from parents.

Teachers and parents at other schools in the city and the suburbs are publicizing the opt-out option, even as the question of overtesting has reached City Council and the U.S. Senate, among other places.

Council held hearings on the issue in November. Later they passed a resolution – sponsored by Council members Mark Squilla, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, and Jannie Blackwell – calling on the District and School Reform Commission “to analyze the financial and human impact” of testing and find ways to reduce the number of tests.

The Senate Education Committee scheduled hearings with the aim of revising No Child Left Behind, including how often students are tested, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently that he favors keeping most NCLB testing provisions.

“The opt-out movement is a national movement, and you’re going to see more action this year across the state,” said Mark Miller, vice president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which has taken no position on the issue.

“The greatest pushback is coming from parents’ groups, and we certainly don’t object to them doing that,” noted Miller, who also is on the board of the Network for Public Education, led by education historian and testing critic Diane Ravitch.

Groups involved locally include the Caucus of Working Educators, Parents United for Public Education, Action United, Teacher Action Group, and Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. For information, email optoutphilly@gmail.com.

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Connie Langland

Connie Langland is a freelance education writer.