News & Politics

How School Administrators Tried to Bully My Daughter into Taking a Meaningless Test

What really happens when a student decides to opt-out of statewide exams? One parent-teacher's perspective on the backlash her daughter experienced when she said no to the test.

The following letter was originally submitted to United Opt Out, a national campaign to eliminate high-stakes testing in public education. Its author is both a National Board Certified Teacher and the parent of a high school student who recently decided to forgo statewide testing in her Denver, CO school. Their experience is detailed below.

To Those It May Concern:

I have dual roles in the work force. I am a teacher who, this year, received my National Board accreditation and was recently honored by legislators for this achievement and my commitment to high quality education. I am also a parent who takes seriously my role as an advocate for and mentor of my children. I currently have a daughter enrolled as a Freshman in Denver Public Schools. I am highly supportive of my child’s public education, her teachers and her school. My two roles often intertwine. The dichotomies that sometimes present themselves can be difficult to navigate.

National Board teachers are well aware that the bottom line in an educator’s practice is knowing that the decisions made daily in the classroom have positive and real effects on student learning. As a mother, I look for these opportunities in my own children’s education. Recently, around our dinner table, the topic has turned to the up and coming CSAP/TCAP tests. As both an educator and a parent, I question the cost to benefit value of these tests. The amount of effort and expenditure put toward state tests in relation to the type of information received, in my opinion and experience, is not justifiable and needs to be reexamined and reconsidered by our legislators.

My daughter and I have engaged in several discussions regarding this testing over the last month. She entered preschool the year the tests began and has never known an educational environment that has not been test-oriented. As her parent, I have attempted to support the testing by making certain that she sleeps well the night before and has breakfast the morning of the test. I have encouraged her to do her best and have listened to recaps of how she has navigated the “Tell about your favorite outfit” writing prompt. To her credit, and with a definite call out to the majority of her teachers and a recognition of her environmental upbringing, she has scored advanced in all areas each year she has been subjected to the tests.  Kudos to her.

My daughter’s and my conversations regarding the inherent (or lack of inherent) value of the test began in January of this year. We discussed the lack of voice and power educators have when it comes to administering the tests. We contemplated the power of parents in standing up against the status quo and this led us to examine the possibility of her parents opting her out of this year’s testing. Instead of taking the statewide exam, my daughter independently decided that she would prefer spending the testing time researching the issues surrounding standardized testing and writing to her legislators about the effects of testing on her education. When given the choice, she commented, “It would make more sense to me to spend the time doing something productive and worthwhile... something that might make a difference and that would challenge me. Something that has meaning to me.”

Uncertain of how this decision would affect the larger picture, we began to explore the option by contacting the Colorado Department of Education, the school and doing internet research. We received a response by the Colorado Department of Education outlining four misconceptions, three of which we questioned the validity [of]. The only one that concerned us was the potential impact opting out would have on the school and the teachers. My daughter has had a positive experience her first year of high school – it should be noted that much of this can be attributed to a dedicated and supportive drama teacher at the school – and we were concerned about how the decision might impact the school.

We were soon to find we were part of our very own sociological research experiment entitled: “The effect on rational adults when their security is threatened by a high achieving student.” Although educators and administrators at her school quietly conceded that they felt the test was not necessarily in the best interest of students, my daughter soon was coming home with stories of teachers and administrators cajoling, begging and bullying in an effort to sway our thinking. She shared teachers’ comments including, “You’re being irresponsible," ”You’re not supporting the school," and “You’re being selfish.”

The issue was on the top of my list as I headed to parent/teacher conferences last week. I began my conferences with my daughter’s English teacher. The teacher shared with me that my daughter was performing well in her class and was “mature above her years.”  I then broached the subject of the CSAP/TCAP and our philosophical struggle with taking the test. I shared our thoughts about possibly opting my daughter out and the idea of her spending the time writing to her legislators. I must admit, I had hoped that this English teacher would somehow recognize a student’s critical thinking skills and the coinciding opportunity for that student to articulate her ideas in writing in an impacting way. Instead, I was told, “If your daughter does not take the test, she will not be considered part of the school community, and I would suggest that you look at privately educating her.”  

The teacher would prefer that I take my daughter, who currently ranks 13th in her class, out of Denver Public Schools because we are questioning the validity and reliability of state testing and are considering opting out. The teacher [then] suggested that I speak to an administrator if I had further questions or concerns. I confirmed that I would do that, but, before leaving, I wanted assurance that my daughter would not be impacted in her classroom as a result of this choice.  I was told, “That remains to be seen.”

My ensuing conversation with the administrator brought to light the staff’s underlying fear of my advanced scoring child opting out and the school not being able to record her score. There was discussion of teachers losing their jobs, the school being reconstituted and the administrator not being able to put food on his table, all as a result of my 14-year-old daughter not taking a test – a test [for] which everyone already knows the ultimate outcome.

Fear is an interesting phenomenon and one that is increasingly driving the decisions that are made in our schools and classrooms. My National Board accreditation, which was just touted at the Capitol as representative of the highest ideals of teaching, continually stresses (and achievement is dependent on) making decisions based on the bottom-line impact of what is best for our children. I know, as evident by our recent experience, that this is not what is currently driving education. I would urge legislators to consider this as they continue to make the decisions that impact our schools, our administrators, our teachers and most importantly, our children.

Signed,
A National Board Certified Teacher and parent

An additional comment from the writer of this letter:  As I’ve shared our experience with others, many have wondered about the educator reactions. People have asked why the teachers and administrators, who often voice concern and frustration over these tests, reacted as they did. I believe the high stakes nature of the tests drive these reactions. Educational professionals are well aware that their pay, reputation, freedoms and overall job security are dependent on the tests. They are stuck in a horrible place of promoting something that many (most) feel are not in the best interest of their students; they are powerless to fight back. Although I was surprised and concerned with the reaction to our choice, school personnel are not fully responsible. This responsibility falls on our legislators who continue to support these tests through continued funding and mandates.