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Parents opt out of high stakes testing for many different reasons. Among the reasons I hear most often – teaching to the test, narrowed curriculum, too much stress, developmentally inappropriate, data collection, profiteering, the high stakes of retention and remediation, Common Core, and on and on and on…

What I believe most parents are in agreement about, is that school is no longer a place where children feel emotionally safe. They don’t feel safe being curious, creative, or daring. Failing, instead of being an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work, opening a window to other possibilities, has become a label to be feared and dreaded, because there is too much at stake to allow children to fail at anything anymore. Our children don’t always feel emotionally safe just being kids in school.

In the blog, Round the Inkwell, NPE Executive Director and lifelong educator, Carol Burris writes about a question posed to teachers by Jeanette Deutermann, the founder of Long Island Opt Out.  She asks:

If you knew that nearly all of your students were opting out, what would your classrooms be like?

Teachers’ responses included:

– I would re-engage my creative talents to tailor this year’s goals in the most appropriate manner for each of my students … and to once again make school a place of adventure, warmth and consistency.

– Listen longer to the children and let them tell their stories of life.

– I will do more hands on projects they will really remember when they get older!

– I would do more music, poetry and plays.

– Get back to creative teaching and allowing my students to enjoy learning!

The teachers’ responses are poignant and, I believe, are the heart of why so many parents fight so hard in the opt out movement. We grieve this version of school as a critical loss for our children, especially if we remember loving school and loving learning. We know that, for the most part, the way our children experience school, is but a shadow of what teachers imagine here, or of what we remember fondly.

I read this post with my eleven-year-old daughter. She is now in the sixth grade – a middle school student, with all that that implies. She is a typical tween – sweet, moody, sensitive, sour, dour. Yet, having been exposed to and engaged in my activism for years, she is also not your typical tween. She is mature, strong, strong-minded, informed and she has always taken her education very seriously. In our family, we ask hard questions, and we listen to each other.

Our family has recently moved from one school district to another, where the testing culture, although a part of public education as we know it, is tempered with more compassion for children and where the district leadership seems to be more willing to listen and respond to the concerns of parents. It isn’t perfect, and there is still much work to be done, but for us, school is better than it has been for years.

My daughter had this to say about Carol Burris’ blogpost,

“I agree with all of that. School isn’t like that for me, but I wish it were. 

School was great until third grade.  But when I was in grades three, four and five, I felt like when we went over material, we were supposed to understand it right away – even if we didn’t. I never felt like I could ask questions because my teacher might think that I wasn’t paying attention, or that I wasn’t able to understand it at all. We never had time to just talk about stuff. We always had to rush on to the next thing. It’s better now at my new school, but they still talk about THE TEST. It’s not like your friend wrote, or like you tell me school was like for you, Mom. The same thing the teachers say they want, that’s what I want too. 

Maybe I’ll ask my teacher why school can’t be more like your friend wrote. I wonder what my teacher will say when I tell her I’m opting out, that I’ve never taken THE test… because I want school to be like that.

School CAN be like this again for all children… It’s up to us now.

No fear… No doubt… OPT OUT.

students in classroom illustration