Education, Lessons Learned In Combat, opt out

“Live Free or Die?” Not When It Comes to Opting Out.

My husband and I are in shock. We have just received a letter from our children’s superintendent and elementary school principal denying our request to opt our children out of their state standardized testing, most notably the NECAP and the upcoming Smarter Balanced assessment.

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This, from a NH district (Live Free or Die!) that many families, including our own, move into precisely for their reputation of being a student-centered, community-based, autonomous school that, up until the past couple of years, has maintained that reputation. On the teacher level, thankfully, this is still the case. Lately, however, the administration has demonstrated their whole-hearted embrace of the Common Core State Standards, especially after the hiring of an administrator who played a large role in helping to develop these standards. And now, we realize, that whole-hearted embrace includes all of the garbage associated with those standards, including the blanket administration of state standardized tests to all children within the district.

Let me be clear: our request to opt our children out of standardized testing is not about our children. (They will be fine regardless. They’re a scrappy pair.) Rather, it is about taking a stand against a practice that has proven time and time again to be directly opposed to our deeply held beliefs about teaching and learning. Just as importantly, it is about taking a stand for those children and parents who do not have a voice.

What is most disheartening about this refusal of our request is that we can’t help feeling as though the district that we were so excited to have our children be a part of has been held hostage by this current administration and their unfailing devotion to the Common Core. We had so hoped to be able to share a different opt out story than the ones we read about online every day.

Sadly, it is looking as if this will not be the case.

 

UPDATE 4/13/14: Yesterday, we received another letter from our superintendent in response to our encouragement that the district “strongly reconsider” its refusal of our request. It reads as though the superintendent, Dr. Morse, is implying that if we explicitly refuse to allow our children to participate instead of asking that they be “opted out,” the district cannot refuse our refusal (ha ha–didn’t know how else to say that). I will post excerpts from the letter exactly as written (mechanical errors and all) below.

So…our next step is to thank the superintendent for his response and to explicitly refuse to allow our children to participate in any state-wide assessments. Our hope is that he does not ask us to keep our daughters home on testing days, as we do not think it would be appropriate to do that, but we shall see. If that does end up being the district’s “solution,” we will fight it.

Here are the excerpts:

“School District counsel has reviewed your most recent letter and informed me that none of the laws you cite would permit me to allow your children to opt-out of the state-wide assessments because you do not believe the state-wide assessments adequately assess their skills. The School District cannot force your children to take the NECAP or other state-wide assessments. You can choose to have your children not participate but I cannot give you permission to do so.”

Later, it says:

“Parents have the right to choose where their children will be educated. However, a parent’ authority over a child’s education is not absolute. The federal government by enacting No Child Left Behind has required states to test all students. New Hampshire has implemented that requirement and provided six exemption categories. Unless your children qualify for one of those categories and are exempted by the Director of Assessments for the New Hampshire Department of Education, I have no authority to exempt your children from the testing.”

Oh…and we have been in touch with the local paper regarding this issue as well. It looks like there will be a story posted early this week. If and when it comes out, I will provide a link to it on this page.

Thank you, everyone, for your continued support!

UPDATE 4/15/14: Here is a link to our local paper’s article regarding our opt out attempts:

http://fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20140415%2FGJNEWS_01%2F140419544

UPDATE 5/2/14: Upon coming home from an extended trip out of town, I received another letter from our district superintendent in response to our third letter (this time outright “refusing” to allow our children to participate in state-wide assessment). Seems as though the “refusal” wording is key to ensuring that your child/ren are not administered any state-wide assessments. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Coppola,
I am in receipt of your letter dated April 13, 2014 that you are refusing that your children participate in any state-wide assessment. As you know, as superintendent I cannot give permission for your children to be excused from the NH state assessment. As a system, ORCSD must report to the state on participation rates of all students. Your refusal to participate negatively impacts the Moharimet Schools aggregate participation rates/scores but has no bearing on their grade or class placement.

What is interesting to my husband and I (and my own principal, who is now experiencing some push back from her own attempt to opt her stepchildren out of state-wide assessment) is that, so far, no one can tell us precisely how schools or districts are “negatively impacted.” One upper-level administrator has implied that the district will lose money due to these refusals, but I do not believe that to be true, and no one has been able to confirm such a notion. Regardless, my family and I will not be made to feel guilty about a system that is clearly lacking in logical thought and moral integrity.

Please share your thoughts below!

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12 thoughts on ““Live Free or Die?” Not When It Comes to Opting Out.”

  1. That’s priceless and appalling. My friend in Washington state got one that basically threatened the teacher.

    By the way, what’s your opposition to STAR? I’m curious because I find that it actually does provide some helpful data for instructional planning if I only give it about once a semester.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your question and for commenting on my blog! Honestly, I just don’t think the STAR assessment is necessary to use with most students. In my experience, assessments like this (99% of the time) don’t tell us teachers anything we don’t already know about a student that we can glean by looking closely at their work, by talking with them, and by observing them. I also feel as though the reading assessment sends a message about literacy that I don’t like–that it’s about reading a passage and correctly answering multiple choice questions about the passage. I think that turns a lot of kids off to reading and writing.

  2. School districts have no authority to force “objectionable materials” upon your child. Parents have the right to review and inspect all materials, and opt-out their child. If no Smarter Balanced assessment materials are available for parental review, parents have every right to opt-out their child under a recently passed statute:

    RSA 186:11 IX-c. Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A.

    Two bills were introduced in 2013, requiring that students pass statewide assessments in order to be promoted to the next grade or graduate. Both bills, HB 321 and HB 322, failed to pass the legislature. So while it may still be the prerogative of the district to impose such requirements, parents can override these stipulations. Parents have the right to review, inspect and opt-out of objectionable assessment materials.

    Thank you, Mr. Coppola, for standing up against these assessments, which do not meet the requirements of state law, RSA 193-C. Statewide assessments must be valid, appropriate and objectively scored. Smarter Balanced assessments fails to meet all three criteria.

  3. We need to change the laws or at least the interpretation of them that the US DOE and state departments of education are giving them. I am beginning that effort today. I will be using the letter you posted to help in that effort as one example of the kinds of bullying tactics we are up against. Let me know ASAP if you do not want this letter to appear with others of a similar nature in a legal framework. Garrett A. Hughes gah@garrettahughes.com

  4. They tried to say this in NY, but the wording was all that needed to change. Instead of “Opting out” you need to say that you “Refuse the Test.” Look at the Opt Out Long Island Facebook page for more details. Also, NY state allies for Public Education. You might find some info you can use there. Good Luck! Parents here on Long Island pushed back and over 20,000 refusals came in on our state exam last week. Our politicians are scratching their heads and now we’re moving to do it again when they throw another “assessment” at us toward the end of this month. Push back!

  5. Shawna and David,

    Here is what I would do: FYI ~(My husband & I, both teachers, opted both our kids out in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when there was no such term as “opt out.” My daughter is being fully funded in a PhD program at OSU in genetics research and is an instructor of undergrad students, my son is a senior at OSU, successfully pursuing a career he is passionate about ~ opting out has not harmed my kids at all)

    Withdraw your kids from school the week of the standardized test, home school them, re-enroll your kids 2 weeks later, after testing make-up window has closed. Completely legal, time for civil disobedience because after all, we are the “Land of the Free.”

    Stick to your principles, you are role models for your children and teaching them a vital lesson as citizens in our “democracy.”

    Maureen Reedy
    Columbus, Ohio

  6. In Massachusetts, there’s been an ongoing discussion of the law not providing and opt out provision. The truth is that the law has nothing to say about it. The law does not say students must participate in testing either. I’m guessing that in NH it will be the same. It looks like a scare tactic. I can’t understand why school districts and states are behaving like this. As a former citizen of NH and now MA, I think both our states have a lot going when it comes to looking at anything with a critical eye. But apparently, not when it come to Common Core. It’s like they all received the same talking points.

  7. I would follow up the response you received with a simple statement to the effect of, “I’m sorry to hear that my children not participating negatively impacts the school as this is not our intention when opting our children out. Can you give me some examples of other schools in NH being negatively impacted by parents opting out their children and what the consequences were for those particular schools?”

  8. Thank you for getting this information. As a teacher I struggle as what to do with my own children. While they are not at a tested grade yet I do plan on opting them out when they are. Please continue to keep us apprised of your situation.

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