Monday, March 02, 2015


Our daughter will be opting out of the PARCC testing this spring at my high school. Some folks will applaud this decision, others will vehemently disagree, but we thought it was important to share our thinking. This is the letter we submitted to my administration and the school board this morning.

February 28, 2015
To: Arapahoe High School Administration and LPS Board of Education

This letter is to let you know that our daughter will be opting out of the PARCC testing in the Spring of 2015 (both the PBA and the EOY). This request is not meant in any way to reflect poorly on Arapahoe High School or Littleton Public Schools. Our daughter loves her teachers and frequently comes home and tells us what a good job they are doing, with specific examples of what she thinks they did well. But as educators with a combined 48 years teaching every grade level (except Kindergarten and 2nd grade) from Pre-K through 12th, as well as professional development for adults, we do not feel like this testing is in the best interests of our daughter or the school.

We feel that the skills that this testing purports to measure reflect a very narrow and flawed version of what it means to be educated; of what it means to learn and to have learned. We don’t necessarily think that the standards themselves are bad; as standards go most of the Common Core State Standards (and the Colorado modification of them) are well written. To paraphrase Yong Zhao, there’s nothing wrong with the Common Core State Standards, as long as they weren’t common and they weren’t core.

While at times we may disagree with a specific assessment one of her teachers gives her (the content, the format, or the way it’s delivered), in general we believe that her teachers are in the best position to assess her progress as a learner (in conjunction with our daughter herself). More importantly, we believe these teacher-given assessments at least have the potential to help her grow as a learner. Standardized testing such as PARCC, however, is mostly designed to meet the needs of adults.

Instead of taking the tests, she will instead use that time to learn. She might read a book, or work on assignments from her teacher, or watch videos on YouTube of things that interest her, or perhaps just catch up on sleep to compensate for the ridiculousness of beginning school for teenagers at 7:21 am each day. Whatever she does, it is more likely to contribute to her growth as a learner than taking the tests, and less likely to negatively impact her and her school as a whole.

We don’t just think that these tests are bad for our daughter, we believe these tests are bad for all the students at Arapahoe, and for Arapahoe in general. These tests are forcing teachers to narrow their focus; to value a fixed, pre-determined set of skills that someone else has decided that all students need over the needs and desires of the living and breathing students that are actually in their classrooms. While there are many criticisms we would make about the curriculum currently being taught and the restraints that imposes on both teachers and learners, we still put our trust in Abby’s teachers to make the best of that curriculum.

But in our current environment, the mandated testing is overwhelming teachers’ abilities to make decisions in the best interest of their students. Because the results of these tests are being used to evaluate teachers, teachers and administrators are being forced to toe the line in order to keep their jobs. While some folks would argue that this “only” represents 50% of a teacher’s evaluation, we have both seen how this has come to dominate all the discussions of teaching and learning in our schools. I would ask school administrators the following question: If there is a teacher who you have observed many times over the years that you feel is a master teacher, and yet the results of mandated testing over a narrow band of skills don’t support that, would you really change your evaluation of that teacher? There is so much more to teaching and learning than students simply performing well on a single test on a single day.

Make no mistake, we believe in high standards, we just don’t think that this approach actually helps promote them. We believe you can have high standards without being standardized; in fact, we don’t think it’s possible to truly have high standards if you are standardized. The goal of K-12 education is not to help all students master a pre-determined, fixed set of knowledge all at the same time and at the same pace. Algebra may (or may not) be important for all students to learn, but it is ludicrous to state that all students must learn it by the time they are fifteen years old. Why not fourteen? Or sixteen? If a student decides they need - and want - to learn Algebra at eighteen and master it then, is that so bad?

Anyone who has had children, or has met more than one of them, knows that each and every student is different and learns differently, yet we continue to act as if they are widgets on an assembly line, performing the same processes for the same amount of time on each one of them, and expecting that they will all turn out identical at the end of the line. Not only is this not true, we shouldn’t even want it to be true. We say we value diversity and each individual student, that we value and cherish the individual personalities and strengths of each and every child, yet we’ve developed a system that values conformity and compliance over individuality and initiative. We say that we value critical thinking, yet we are apparently unwilling to model it for our students.

We believe in a vision of education that focuses on the needs of each student over the needs of the system. We believe that school should be a place where students are encouraged to pursue their passions, and then actually prepare them to achieve those passions. That doesn’t mean we don’t value community; we believe one of the greatest strengths of the concept of public schools is bringing together students with different strengths and different backgrounds into a common space where they can learn and grow together. Where they can find others who share their passion, but also learn with and alongside those who have other passions. We believe that the way you meet the needs of society is by meeting the needs of each individual student. If you truly meet each student’s needs, then in the end you will meet the needs of society.

For all of these reasons (and many more, but this is already fairly long), we are choosing to opt our daughter out of testing. We have given her the option of opting out each year but this is the first time she has chosen to do it; previously she has never wanted to stand out and “be different” than the other students. She is aware enough now to understand, however, that taking these tests is not only not in her own best interests, but also not in the interests of her friends, classmates and teachers. We think this is important enough that we would give her this option even if it did “negatively” impact Arapahoe or Littleton Public Schools but, thankfully, with the recent changes at the state level surrounding the 95% participation rate, that will not happen.

Which is why we also have a request for the leadership of Arapahoe and Littleton Public Schools. Littleton Public Schools is the highest scoring district in the Denver Metro area, and one of the highest scoring districts in the state, and Arapahoe scores very well as a school. This puts the school and the district in a position where others might listen if they stood up and said this is not in the best interests of our students. A school and a school district that always come out looking good under this system is in the unique position of making the case for why this approach is fatally flawed. Instead of simply reacting to events and the decisions of others, we would ask you to lead.

We - the students, parents, educators and citizens of Colorado - need you to be proactive, not reactive. Instead of reacting to and appeasing the folks who are imposing this system on us, we need you to advocate for a different version of learning, a truly higher standard of what we expect from our schools, a vision for what school can and should be. We don’t need schools that are “better” at scoring well on standardized tests, we need schools that are different, and we need you to advocate for that vision and for our students. We hope you will. Our students deserve nothing less from us.


Karl and Jill Fisch

More Information

Colorado Department of Education

 Denver Post

United Opt Out
Update 3-4-15: LPS has a page (not sure if it's brand new or was just updated) with FAQs about PARCC/CMAS that includes a mention of opting out.


  1. We too REFUSED (opt-out suggest LPS District is "in charge"; it's the other way around...they are OUR employees) all of our children.

    Very interesting to see how QUIET and SECRETIVE the district has been surrounding PARCC and CMAS.

    Write you local state representatives and support CO House Bill 15-1105, pushing to REPEAL Common Core from Colorado!

    1. Well, from my perspective, I haven't seen LPS being particularly heavy handed or secretive about this. There are some districts who have taken a much more threatening/coercive posture to try to get students to take the tests, and I haven't seen any of that from LPS.

      Having said that, I do wish they would use this as an opportunity to have a broader discussion about the purpose of education and start to articulate a better vision for our students.

  2. Caroline F.3/5/15, 12:20 PM

    Hello Mr. Fisch! I'm a teacher from New Jersey, where the PARCC is currently underway. My district's current position on students not taking the PARCC exams is not being recognized as "Opt-Out" in the sense of the word, but being treated as "Test Refusal." Those students will not be asked to take or make-up the exam if prior notice is given from parents, but will be required to sit in with a book to read for the test. Unlike Colorado, they are not being accommodated in order to stay home during testing days (late buses, etc.) I wonder what your thoughts are on this.

    Preparing for the PARC has taken a significant amount of time away from student learning, and teacher’s professional development. At first, I found the testing program difficult to figure out, and the test administrator’s platform difficult to navigate. My administrators did a fabulous job of answering all of our questions and preparing us for it. After two days of testing, only 2 irregularities have been reported.

    Testing is not a new concept, but doing so using technology is a 21st century skill. I’m ecstatic that my students will be asked to work with videos and other media as well as reading in order to demonstrate their skills. Of course I’m going to spend the time needed to make sure their testing experience goes smoothly.

    In your previous post you wrote about leadership and what it means to be a leader. If we mean to raise our standard of education in this country as a whole, how will we know we did? We will have to measure the immeasurable, quantify the unquantifiable thing: learning. It seems an impossible task, but the Common Core attempts it. The result is like bringing a yardstick to measure air. It’s there, we know it is, but we have the wrong tool. The conversation needs to continue and evolve. I admire your uncommon-common sense approach to this. You articulate it beautifully. Well done!

    1. Caroline - Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think we need to look closely at how we define "high standards" and "success". As a parent, I don't care at all how my daughter does on the Common Core; on how she performs in isolation on a discrete set of narrow skills completely divorced from how she will learn, work and live. Why in the world would we "prepare for PARCC?"

      I don't care at all how she compares to other students. I don't view "learning" and "high standard" and "success" though the lens of competition. I view her progress in the context of her own growth, measured in relation to her strengths, weaknesses, interests and passions. I think the way we measure that to see "how we did" is to sit down and jointly assess that with the student and their teachers - and I would broadly define teachers as everyone in their life that they are learning with and from. And I think that's a continuous process that never ends; routine check-ups, not an autopsy.

      I think we need to fundamentally change how we view and define "education," how we define and evaluate the process of learning and growing, and focus on our students' needs, not our own.

  3. Mr. Fisch --
    I am an LPS employee working in an elementary school and I applaud you for taking a stand as a parent in such a public way.
    It was an easy decision to opt out our Senior from the CMAS testing last fall. Tests are very stressful for her and scores often do not show what she knows. The tests would have no benefit for her whatsoever.
    My husband and I are still trying to decide whether or not to opt out our Junior at AHS from testing this Tuesday. He does not stress about taking tests and generally scores well. He has told us that there has been absolutely no prep in his classes for what to expect or how to use the various tools available on the online tests. That could put a lot of students at a disadvantage. Also I am surprised that all three units of the ELA tests will be offered back to back in one morning. I assume that AHS is trying to avoid losing instructional time to preparing for and taking these tests but even those discrepancies among the various schools will effect the standardization of the scores and schew comparisons of scores from one school to another.
    One reason for having our son take the PARCC tests this week is simple curiosity, to see how an Honors student taking AP classes would do on the test. If he does well, great, although there is no benefit for him personally. If he does poorly then that adds to the legitimacy of the argument that the test scores do not accurately reflect a student's abilities or readiness for college and career. If the scores are not a true reflection of what a student is capable of then those scores certainly should not be used to evaluate the hard working and competent teachers.
    At the elementary school where I work, two sections of a grade level will take their tests in the mornings and the other two sections of that grade level will test in the afternoons because there is not enough bandwidth in that part of the building for the entire class to test at the same time. One of the students with whom I work does not have the same amount of stamina in the afternoon as he would have in the morning and I am sure that is true of other students as well. In addition the PARCC testing occurs right after the change in Daylight Savings Time, another disadvantage to students.
    I am curious to know what your thoughts are regarding the scheduling of the PARCC tests -- three units back to back in one morning for the high schoolers; splitting a grade level into morning and afternoon sessions due to the technology challenges at the elementary school; and scheduling the testing before students have adjusted their sleep schedules to DST.
    I agree with you that LPS should be much more vocal than they have been on the testing controversy but unfortunately they prefer silence to speaking up on this and other issues of concern.
    Thank you for sharing your point of view.
    Another Concerned Parent

    1. Leslie - First, to answer your question about the testing schedule, yes, that's a result of lots of careful thought about how best to administer the tests while impacting instructional time the least. Keep in mind that if all students were to show up, we'll be testing almost 1600 students on Wednesday and Thursday. That's quite an undertaking, and there are lots of moving pieces to making that work and disrupting learning time the least. Based on our experience with CMAS, many students will have a fair amount of "down time" during the sessions, finishing early during each unit, so having three back-to-back isn't quite so bad. If your son does end up taking the tests, he should bring a book or magazine to read or he may end up frustrated just sitting around. (No writing or electronics allowed, however.)

      As far as scheduling in relation to DST, I've brought that up each year (with CSAP and TCAP before this), but other folks have never thought it was that big a deal. (It was even worse previously, as testing would often begin on the Monday after the time change, at least this time it's Wednesday.) Of course, I haven't had much luck convincing anyone that starting at 7:21 every day is a bad idea, too :-).

      As far as the bigger picture, I think your two children are a pretty good example of why the thinking between standardization is fundamentally flawed. As I said in the post, it's not that I think the standards themselves are all that bad, it's the idea of one-size-fits-all and that a test taken in isolation is a good measurement of student learning and growth. If I did agree with that, then the PARCC tests would probably be a pretty decent way to go about measuring it, which is part of the reason I try to not demonize folks who support it - it's logically consistent with their views on education. I just don't agree with those views :-).