[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]HOWIE MORALES is a Democratic state senator from Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties. He is an educator, member of the Senate Education committee, and former candidate for governor. [/box]
There is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC) that will be administered to students from grades 3-11 this spring. I want to clarify the options parents have in deciding to opt their children out of taking this test.
Many of you have expressed concern and, indeed, dissatisfaction with the intensity of the current amount of standardized testing taking place in our schools. One of the top concerns I share is the elimination of a parent’s right in deciding whether or not their child has to take the test. I was appalled to be notified that school districts are intentionally telling parents that they cannot “opt out” their children from taking standardized tests. This blatant effort to misinform parents is a violation of a parent’s right to choose what is best for their children and it is unacceptable. Our children must not be used as leverage in a misguided national trend of high-stakes testing in public education.
The fact is, according to the U.S. 14th Amendment of the Constitution, parents do have a say, and their rights are protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education; it is their right to choose to have their children take these tests or not. Under the current testing schedule for the school year 2014-2015, our students will be taking the PARCC assessment in March. There is currently a national debate on whether the PARCC test is beneficial or necessary to our students and schools; many leaders in the education field feel that they are not.
If you choose to have your child opt out of testing, you should not let your school district discourage you from exercising your parental right. Parents may write a refusal letter to opt their children out of testing, and most school districts will have an “opt out” form on their web page that you can download. If you cannot find the form online, you can ask any principal for the form or visit http://www.nmoptout.org/ for more information.
I have received other questions related to issues about how opting out will affect children’s grades, promotion or retention, and how opting out will impact our schools, and affect our teachers. Currently there is no impact on the grades and promotion of our students K-8 for failure to take the PARCC. High school students who opt out of PARCC, in some school districts, will not meet the assessment requirements to graduate with a diploma, but will instead receive a Certificate of Completion. This is an unfair and inequitable way of dealing with this issue. Fortunately, some school districts will allow an Alternative Demonstrations of Competency (ADC’s) for high school students to receive their diplomas. I encourage you to notify your school district about this option.
Additionally, each school is now under a mandate from the Public Education Department (PED) that requires 95 percent of students to participate in testing. Any school that does not meet the 95 percent rate will have its school letter grade reduced to the next letter grade (an “A” school’s letter grade would be lowered to a grade of “B” and so on). This current grading system has not proven to be beneficial to instruction of students or for evaluation of teachers. In fact, it is harmful because it holds schools and teachers accountable for circumstances that they are unable to regulate.
Opting out does not have an automatic effect of lowering teacher evaluation scores. This is a mandate that exists solely for the purposes of the PED. These tests do not provide instructional feedback to educators and they are not useful in determining a teacher’s impact on student learning.
More and more parents are choosing to opt out their children from these tests because of the tremendous amount of time they take away from instruction and the unhealthy amount of pressure they place on our children. This type of pressure on young children is unnecessary and it can be detrimental to our students’ educational experiences. I wholeheartedly believe a true educational system does not need to be further standardized, but rather individualized based on each student’s unique needs.