It’s that time of year again. I didn’t need an email from my daughter’s third-grade teacher to remind me that the PARCC test was being administered this month. The month-long drumbeat in both mainstream and social media gave me ample warning. Day after day, parents in my community have reminded all who will pay attention that those horrible tests are coming, and to protect our children, we need to opt them out. Any regular reader of my
Eduflack blog knows that I have long been a strong proponent of the Common Core, student assessments and accountability.
I believe that strong standards and equally strong assessments are essential in a 21st-century classroom.
That tests have long been a part of the K-12 experience and will remain so.
That we should focus on test data to improve classroom instruction.
And that those seeking to outlaw the Common Core-aligned tests simply don’t realize that, by law, student assessments aren’t just an option and one test must be replaced with another test.
On those issues, I am an open book. But I’ll make a confession that few know. Last year, when my son was in third grade, we opted him out of the PARCC test. For the 2014-15 school year, I was an opt-out parent. A Common Core-loving, assessment-evangelizing, opt-out dad. We didn’t opt our son out as a political statement or as a show of civil disobedience. Nor did we do it in opposition to New Jersey’s Common Core-based curriculum or to advocate for a greater focus on the whole child. No, we opted our son out for very personal, kid-based reasons.
Why We Opted Out
For our son, third grade was his very first year on an individualized education plan (IEP). He had just gone through a litany of testing, and his teachers were focused on how best to meet his instructional and developmental needs. He was aware of his academic shortcomings, and was working hard on all of them. We figured taking PARCC so soon after all of that was unnecessary. His teachers already knew his strengths, and they knew what he needed to work on. There was no new information that could be gleaned from taking the state exam. So we, as his parents, decided not to have him sit for the tests. Of course, we quickly realized that opting out is not the glorious experience that so many parents seem to share. For a struggling learner with anxiety, there are few things worse than sitting in front of a blank computer screen as the rest of your classmates took an online battery of exams. So each day, our son was “sick” during those blocks when PARCC was being administered. He was well as soon as testing was over. And then he was sick again during those scheduled make-up blocks as well. We didn’t think twice about it. We did what was best for our son at that moment. Even as an opt-out dad, my blood still boils when I see other parents call for opting out en masse. I get infuriated when these same parents say there are no repercussions, knowing full well that while our well-resourced district may not feel the pain, our collective actions could directly impact the amount of federal resources going into a district like nearby Trenton. This year, both of our kids fall within the PARCC testing pool. And this year, both of our kids will be sitting and taking PARCC with the rest of their classmates.
Yes, this opt-out parent is now opting his child back in. The reasons for this are simple. Our son has worked very hard over the last year and a half, and it is important for his teachers and his parents to see how he is progressing. PARCC is the best tool available to know where our son falls when it comes to fourth-graders in his school, our state and across the country. And it helps his fifth-grade teacher best know the knowledge and skills he is coming in with next school year. His IEP is not an excuse, it was merely a new compass. It is also not an opt-out from accountability. We’ve done everything we can to ensure our kids know that PARCC is simply “another test.” It is nothing to get worked up over. It is nothing to cram for. It is nothing to get upset about. We just want them to do their best, with no prejudged expectations. Part of the job of being a kid is needing to take tests in school. As an opt-out parent, I see the value in a select few families choosing not to have their kids take the state test. As an opt-in parent, I’m tired of fellow parents looking to use their kids and their futures as social experiments while denying their teachers and communities needed data for improving classroom instruction. Instead of opting out again this year, I’m opting my kids back in.
Patrick Riccards is the executive director of
Best in the World Teachers. Patrick previously served as chief communications and strategy officer for the
Woodrow Wilson Foundation and chief of staff to the National Reading Panel, as well as director of the federal Partnership for Reading Collaborative and the ...