Well, well, well. Or, as my friend Justin says, w-AY-al! I'm not trying to be all vindicated or anything, but I'm feeling sort of vindicated.
Last Thursday morning as my daughter and I headed to Running Club before school, I passed a well-known teacher who was on campus early and handing parents fliers with details about our legal right to opt our kids out of standardized testing. I realize that may seem like the most boring sentence ever written, but it is not. Trust me on this. I'm a copy editor and I know boring. Ask me about mobile video capacity and quality through the use of rate adaptation, and I'll show you worldwide eradication of insomnia without pharmaceuticals. Don't get me wrong: It's important stuff, this being able to watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it (say that fast 10 times). But it isn't revolutionary anymore.
What is revolutionary, besides transgender folks being able to use a public restroom that suits their gender identity and expression as defined by them and not by Ted Cruz, is that a teacher—a teacher!—was openly promoting information that might have, at another time, gotten him pink slipped. This without any visible worry of professional ramifications. What the hell is this, a political office?
Toto, I don't think we're in 2012 anymore...
Information about California parents' legal right to opt our kids out of current standardized testing has long been taboo. For five of my six years as the parent of a public schooler, neither the district nor school site staff wanted parents to know about the protective law we are so lucky to have here in in this great, big, beautiful Golden State. We don't have to break the law here in order to skip testing like parents in other states; we simply have to write a letter.
But that act, protected by law, was deemed a radical act that frequently resulted in the kind of peer pressure usually reserved for the teenage set. For all the pushback I've encountered as an opt-outer, you might as well slap a scarlet "O" on my shirt (granted, I have a lot of other letters there and my space is at a premium). As the Hester Prynne of my kid's school, I could bring an entire room to a breathless, tense and eye-rolling, not-her-again halt simply by mentioning the California Education Code 60615. Until this year, our school culture was intimidating on this front; informing past principals that we'd be opting our child out was uncomfortable at best and frightening at worst. It ain't easy to go against the grain, but then, it never is. Good thing I'm wired for it.
To be fair, I know a lot of teachers who think the testing is over the top and want parents to know about their right to opt out. But until last week, they were resigned to communicating through whispers and coded glances for fear of retribution from their superiors. After all, teachers know that research doesn't support the kind of relentless testing foisted upon the modern day U.S. student. According to Maureen Magee of The San Diego Union-Tribune, "The average student in U.S. public school is subjected to 112 required tests from pre-kindergarten through high school." That is absurd. And this is to say nothing of how much test prep and administration disrupt the possibility of a well-rounded, thoughtful, creative and rich education.
So what is different? Why was Mr. M outside with his fliers the other day? W-AY-al.
Hints of change were apparent last school year when, just before the Smarter Balanced Assessments (or what are now referred to as CAASPP assessments), parents across San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) received a letter from Superintendent Cindy Marten that prepped us for the terrible scores the district anticipated. Knowing the tests are crap, Marten included a final paragraph about the right to opt out. She deserves props for skillfully mitigating the pending disaster.
Then, last week happened. All hail last week, when Marten and the SDUSD announced that excessive testing was going to be pared back. Beginning this fall, the district is doing away with the diagnostic reading assessment (DRA) and the three-times-per-year benchmark exams. "Students come to school to learn, not to take tests," Marten said. "Testing takes up valuable time that could be used to teach and learn."
I want to be facetious here and say, "Duh," and "I told you so" and "You don't say." Instead I'll just say that I'm glad to have not subjected my kid to so much of that nonsense that the district has finally admitted is just that.
This isn't a mandate, however. SDUSD is leaving it up to individual schools as to whether to continue using these assessments. Ostensibly, parental input could help define where a given school falls on this issue. It would behoove parents to find out where their school lines up. We need meaningful assessments and we should be collectively demanding that.
This is definitely a sea change that favors real pedagogy and leaves the instruction up to the professionals, many of whom were not involved in the design of the CAASPP, which will still be in place. This is why, like last year and the year before that, we're opting our kid out. But we're less ostracized and more supported now as we hand in our letter.