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
Colorado Department of Education
- Assessment Home
- PARCC Testing: Math and Language Arts
- CMAS Testing: Science and Social Studies
- Colorado Law
- Parent Information
- Letter from State Commissioner of Education to Superintendents re: 95% penalty removal (pdf)
- Article on holding districts "harmless" if don't reach 95% participation
- Opt-Out Movement: Just say no to new Colorado assessments
United Opt Out
- Main Page
- Colorado-specific Page
- FAQ with Colorado Department of Education
- Refusal Guide for Colorado (updated February 2015, pdf)