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Why I opted out of the PSSA circus

By the Notebook on Apr 10, 2013 12:00 PM

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared on Parents United for Public Education's website. 

by Tomika Anglin

On Dec. 13, 2012, the School District of Philadelphia recommended 37 schools for closure. There were impassioned pleas and hard-worked proposals. There were well-written reports of community input. There was anger. There were tears. There were rallies, chants and marches. There was organization, mobilization and  solidarity. And then the School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools. They voted against our children. Against their safety. Against their education. Against their future. So what do we do now as parents and a concerned community? How do we impact this bureaucracy that is called the School District of Philadelphia? How do we impede this assault on our children’s future?

We rebel. We no longer accept what is handed to us. We “do not go gentle into that good night.” We fight “against the dying of the light.” Our children need us to continue to stand and fight for them. We need to protect them because the School Reform Commission has chosen to abandon them. We need to pick up all our marbles and refuse to play if we can’t play together. But, how do we?

We opt out of the PSSA.

I have chosen to exercise my option to have my daughter excused from the state’s two-week-long, one-size-fits-all assessment of her ability. According to Pennsylvania code, parents have the right to opt out of state standardized tests. Most of us do not know this because the explanation about the PSSAs and our rights under it is not distributed to parents. The School District, however, must honor the request of parents who wish to opt out according to religious reasons.

I am not alone. Across the country, an increasing number of parents have joined a national opt-out movement. In Seattle, Pittsburgh and New York City, parents are standing against the corrupting and corrupted role that testing has taken in our children’s lives and in our schools.

There are many reasons why I chose to opt out -- the first of which is what’s best for my daughter and her education. I have chosen to allow her work from the start of the year until this point define her ability. I believe in quality assessments that help understand children’s needs and improve instruction designed for them. I believe in assessments that help parents gain greater insight into a school’s quality and its approach towards education. But the PSSAs, especially now, are none of these. The PSSAs are not a tool to measure intelligence. They don’t measure creativity. They do not measure a child’s value as a person. My daughter’s education will not improve as a result of what happens on this test. In fact, depending on how she does, my child will most likely receive an even more standardized and reduced level of education.

As a parent, I cannot support the ridiculous stress our children feel about the all-or-nothing nature of this test. The PSSAs will consume many hours that would be better spent on, frankly, anything else.

And finally, as someone who bore witness to the terrible injustice of last month’s school-closings vote, I choose civil disobedience today. I choose to change my child’s future and to take my child’s education back from those who show so little regard for education today. I choose to disrupt the monied forces behind the tests -- the test makers, test preppers, and test assessors -- who make billions labeling and sorting our schools as “failures.”

I  choose to deny this governor the fruit of his efforts to starve our schools and our children of a vital education. This administration has starved our schools, then they use the tests to take away our crumbs. No, thank you.

I choose not to participate in the circus that is the PSSA.

It is my legal right and it is your right as a parent. I choose to be heard. It  is our time to stand and be counted. We have been deprived of our rights for far too long. Let’s join this national movement on behalf of our children.

Dear Principal: Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22, Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from state standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.

It’s time to exercise our parental rights.

Tomika Anglin is a Philadelphia public school parent and a member of Parents United for Public Education.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (15)

Submitted by Ms. Mattie Davis (not verified) on April 10, 2013 5:55 pm
Ms. Anglin, I applaud you for your courage. Please continue to knock on doors and speak with others about your opinion. Make them hear you!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2013 6:14 pm
What were your religious reasons? I understand your philosophical reasons but you did not explain on what basis you have a religious objection. Or is that the language parents have to use to legally opt their children out? It just all seems like a cop out to me.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 10, 2013 7:27 pm
cop out? and what business is it of yours (or anyone else's) what her religious beliefs are? why should someone need to cite religious beliefs if something already offends them from a philosophical point of view? just another poorly worded statement from administrators aiming to intimidate parents. i salute this parent. this reform nonsense will only stop when parents decide that it's gone too far and make their voices heard en masse.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 8:05 am
I think that the point is don't write a letter stating religious AND philosophical beliefs if they both don't exist. You can have all the philosophical beliefs that you want but you lose your credibility when you list a religious objection just so your child doesn't have to test.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2013 7:49 pm
If you are going to cite "religious and philosophical beliefs" as the reason for opting out then the commentary should detail both but oh wait I forgot its all just a convenient cop out in order to opt out. Really what lesson is being taught to her child? Lie and use the guide of religion to get you out of something you don't want to do. How could anyone even take her "philosophical" beliefs as authentic when her ethics don't match up with her philosophy. On what philosophical basis is lying about a religious objection justifiable??? Such malarkey!!!!!!!
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 10, 2013 7:39 pm
dude, since she cites chapter & verse, "Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22, Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from state standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.", it's probably safe to assume that she used the language required by the authorities. the clause probably should have read "or" instead of "and". whether that was the original language or her paraphrasing i couldn't say. nonetheless, my point is that as a parent she has the right to opt out for whatever reason, without having to light candles and confess her sins. her religious beliefs are her business and not the school districts. you're assuming a very traditional definition of religion...not everyone fits into your cookie cutter mold. for many people, their philosophical beliefs are their religion. your "holier than thou" attitude is hypocritical.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 6:47 am
So by using the language provided by the authorities although they don't accurately pertains to her is ok as long as she gets to opt out. So basically she doesn't meet the merits of opting out if her reasons are only philosophical so its that fraud at the very least? It's a cop out point blank period. It's ok but I'm not pretending that its not. To date not one of these parents have cited their religious objection basis. If you publicly state such a claim then publicly defend it. They all submitted those letters stating such so a question about the objection is reasonable I think.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 8:54 am
the language doesn't mandate that BOTH MUST be reasons for opting out, it sugests that religion and philosophy are BOTH ACCEPTABLE reasons. Nor does it say that if they have religious objections they are required to detail them for anyone who asks. Leaving religious beliefs in out of an explanation in public forum does not make someone a liar or a fraud.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 9:43 am
It does not state AND/OR it says AND inclusive of both philosophical AND religious objections. So let's not play semantics and pretend that the word AND isn't inclusive. Petition to change the statement to include AND/OR because the current wordage is not appropriate.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 9:13 am
How about you publicly identify yourself before requiring what others should do publicly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 9:01 am
Well said from ANONYMOUS to ANONYMOUS. Thanks for making me laugh so hard this morning!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2013 9:40 am
I think you're right about the wording. I don't think it's a holier then thou attitude. The poster is probably an English teacher lol.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2014 2:30 pm
I realize that comments have been made in the past, but had to add another one. Can't help but roll my eyes at the attitude of the individual who was stating that opting out equates to a "cop out". Makes me wonder what the "real motivation" of that commenter was. After what I have experienced my daughter being subjected to prior to the start of PSSA Testing (which started today), I can't help but wish that I had opted her out. Seems so ridiculous that such emphasis is being placed on this Test....emphasis that does not exist for the routine Classroom Tests that occur throughout the School Year. Classrooms and hallways are covered with brown paper, children were told that "it is normal to feel stressed about the Test" and that (this is a good one).... "even some of the GOAL (advanced kids) were CRYING last year when they took it". The kids were also told that they will have a different teacher than their own in the class as they take the test. Reason for this is that each teacher knows who is more inclined to have a desire to copy from others, so teachers are placed in other classes so they will be more inclined to watch ALL of the students. Seems so odd, and so wrong for there to be all this fuss over a Test that does not mean anything in regard to the true ability of a given child! Last year, my daughter had IOWA Testing which was conducted during the mid-year of Second Grade. Her score on that mid-year IOWA Test, not her "routine classroom tests", Grades, etc. determined her placement for THIS year's Math Class! Her Semester Grades were as follows: Mid A, High B, Mid B and High A.....with an A on the "Math Final" and an A average for the School Year. She was not placed in the "Advanced Math Class" this year because her "IOWA Score in Math" did not support such placement! Imagine my shock when I heard that the IOWA Test (which was given mid-year), NOT her grades, was what determined her math placement! Schools are taking away from class time to prepare for these Tests, they are changing their curriculums to model these Tests and they now, are basing Teacher's raises on the results of these Tests.....easy to see how wrong this is! These Tests should not be more important than a given student's performance throughout an entire school year! It is easy to see how this is a moral and an ethical opting out for religious reasons does make sense!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2014 4:06 pm
You are absolutely correct in your comments. Unfortunately too many people believe that there is nothing wrong with high stakes testing. I wish everyone understood the ramifications like you do.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2014 11:32 am
As a teacher who must prepare the students and give these tests, I can say that we hate them too!!! I am currently covering my walls while my students take yet another practice test... Not how I would like to spend my Friday with my amazing class!!

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