Hey, Oklahoma! You can still Opt-Out!
I am going to apologize in advance for the length and lack of organization in this post. Don’t go! Just stick with me. This is the Testing and Opt-Out 101, 201, and 301 course. Ha! It should be broken into several blogs, but there is no time for that. It will be informative. I am going to try to cover the following topics/questions:
- What has occurred this opt out season?
- What goes on during testing?
- How can parents opt out?
- Who can opt out?
- Opt Out Guide
- Questions I can and cannot answer for you
What has occurred this opt out season?
So, here we are, down to the final minutes of opt-out. In five years of opting my kids out and helping others do the same, it never fails that as the testing window is on our front door, the parents concern is multiplied by one hundred. I get it! You have been doing the test prep packets for weeks. You are hearing the moms at Chick-fil-A talk about how upset they will be if their child faces retention because they just aren’t good test-takers. You have seen it in your child… the tummy aches, the not wanting to go to school, the frustration as they fill in bubbles on their massive worksheet packets. The stories are now a reality. It is time.
The SDE has had several complaints about the questions on the practice tests. They released this statement today. In a nut shell, the practice test packets that your child has been doing all day at school and bringing home is an absolute waste of time and has very little to no correlation to the actual test. Ha… great. Listen, I have respect for Joy, I do. She has been vocal in expressing her stance on parental rights. She has also shown no reserves in denouncing high stakes testing and the over-testing crisis our students are facing. However, the SDE is notorious for making ridiculous statements. For example, at the beginning of opt out, I recorded a conversation I had with the SDE accountability/assessment department. I called them asking if I could opt my child out of testing. Here is the exact quotes from the convo. If I were tech savvy enough, I would post the recording. Instead, I will play it to myself, pause to type, then play some more. I’ll consider it a nostalgic moment from childhood where I did the same thing with Paula Abdul cassettes in an attempt to memorize lyrics. I digress…
Nikki and SDE Conversation
N: Hi, I was wanting to get some information on opt-out for my children.
SDE: Ma’am, there is no opt out in the site of Oklahoma.
N: Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, I have heard that. I guess I should rephrase. I do not want my children to take the test. What do I need to do in order to refuse the test for them? As in, who do i contact and what is that process?
SDE: There is no process. It is a state law that every student in 3rd through 8th grade must take the OCCT.
N: I thought it was a state law that schools must administer the test, not that student’s must take the test..?
SDE: No, Every student must take the test.
N: Sorry… I am just looking for clarification here. Testing for students is a mandated and there are guidelines, but I cannot find anything showing it is a law. Is it illegal for my children not to take the test?
SDE: Yes. Since testing is a state law. To intentionally not take the test would be breaking the law.
N: Wow! So, what would the implications be? Could I just leave my children at home during testing days?
SDE: The schools handle these situations differently, but they could launch investigations with state for truancy or negligence in refusing to take the test.
N: Are you kidding me? Ok, thank you for your time.
SDE: You’re welcome. Let us know if you have any other questions.
Any other questions? Are you kidding me? My brain was about to explode! I then had several other parents call, all reporting the same news. Several posted on Facebook about their experiences with the SDE. I even asked some principal friends to call and they were told the same thing. I knew that the message must change and it must change quickly. So, I contacted some people and enlisted some help. I was assured that the SDE would change their tone.
On March 27, less than two weeks away from the testing window I received word from a principal that the SDE had changed their message! I called the SDE and pretended to be a non-informed parent, message had changed. I also had those same principal friends call back, and they too were told that their students could indeed refuse the test. They explained how it would be entered as a “did not attempt” and no further action would be needed. The parents needed to submit an email or written letter stating which test they were refusing their child’s participation. Rejoicing in this change, I also knew it was crunch time. How much damage had been done already? How many schools would not call back the SDE? How many parents felt defeated and did not continue to pressure the SDE or dig for more help or research? I can;t help but wonder how many people would have joined the movement or made an informed decision if they hadn’t been lied to.
What exactly happens during testing week?
Listen, I cannot speak on every district. I can tell you what happens in the majority of the districts. Please hold your e-mails telling me how great your child’s teacher made the testing day. I do not want to hear about how they are having a party afterwards. Grrreeeaaatttt…. that still doesn’t change the fact that students will be retained over this test. That doesn’t change the fact that students will vomit over this test. Frankly, I am just not interested. You can tell yourself whatever you need to tell yourself. I am going to look out for those children nobody is parading around the school talking about.
Let me paint the scene for you. The walls are covered in black paper. All the posters are covered. All the windows are closed. All the books and materials are locked away in cabinets or wrapped in the black butcher paper. There is literally nothing on the walls. It’s a game of “hide all the materials we have used as tools all year-long, then test the students without the tools we taught them to rely on.” Fun times.
I found out that my district is telling teachers that they are not allowed to let children read a book after they complete the test. I was completely mortified by this. I felt it to be inhumane and vulgar. So, I sent an email to several people high up and in charge whom I will not name. Since e-mails are public record, I will go ahead and post that correspondence below. (Oh, P.S. I am notorious for not utilizing spell check or proofreading. So, grammar police, you will probably want to look away, if you haven’t already. I am sure there are mistakes. )
I have had many teachers reach out to me today stating that in their testing meetings, they were told by their administration that children, upon completion, would need to sit and stare. They could not read. They could not do a crossword. They could not have scratch paper. Nothing. They complete the test then sit and stare. (This is not specific to Skelly… This is multiple sites, highly qualified teachers.)
Every teacher that reached out to me was given the same message. They were told that this had to do with the tightened security laws in the test.
I’ve since taken a look at the testing PowerPoint that I assume was sent out from your department (testing) that states the children can read a book. It’s a PowerPoint that encourages as little stress as possible.
I know you are aware of my stance on testing. I am not going to go off on a rant. But, I do want to say that these are 8 year old children, much of whom are in poverty. Many of these students have exceptionalities. Many of these students are being denied accommodations that they normally receive. These young children are already feeling the pressures of the world way too early. Now, they have retention over their heads and all of the damaging self-esteem issues that follow.
Can you imagine the stress they will feel when their classmates are sitting and staring…just waiting on them to finish their test? We’ve put all this pressure on this one high stakes test and then we’ve taken away their right to a book? The one escape they have for that session. We take it?
I feel very alone in this district as far as understanding and empathy for early childhood students. 3rd graders are STILL early childhood.
I’m hopeful this message of sit and stare pressure is not coming from your departments. In fact, I highly doubt it is. But, could someone please send out a statement to ALL of the district that allows children to have access to books after completion? The whole school turns upside down for the next three weeks. We all feel it, regardless of the grade we teach. Nobody likes it, including you all. But, I think we have a moral obligation to make it the least excruciating for students as possible.
Thank you for listening to me. I’m hopeful that our district can send a clear message so that teachers feel less burdened from bizarre rule enforcement and children feel less squelched.
I was hopeful that I could get some empathy. I was sure that everyone would be like, “Oh, Nikki… that is crazy town! We would never take away the rights to read from children and make them sit at desks, palms facing down, and stare for an hour or more! We love children more than that!”
Here is the reply:
This was not the information that was communicated to Building Test Coordinators at the meeting last week. Whether or not students can read after testing is a SITE decision. It has not been a directive from Accountability to not have students read a book following testing.
However, the SDE does state in the Test Preparation Manuals and Test Administration Manuals that the only tests that can have scratch paper are the Math paper/pencil tests and online tests.
I apologize for the confusion this may have caused.
I translate this to: “Whether or not buildings wish to treat their children like prisoners is up tp them. It is a site decision. We will not be releasing any sort of statement for the benefit of children. That would be silliness. And, after all, we will have no silliness in school, especially during testing week!”
(Maybe this is why I am not paid to translate anything.)
So, I could not accept that. I had to send one last heart string pulling plea. And, true story, I had tears dripping down my cheeks as I typed the e-mail regardless of my family staring at me like I had lost it.
Thank you for your response. This is very sad to me. You have principals at sites directing teachers to make children face forward, palms down, sit, and stare until all testing is complete. Other sites are stating that only after 90 minutes can you pick up a book.
For the life of me I cannot understand why me, a first grade teacher, is the only person in this email burdened by this tonight. I had to leave my living room because tears were streaming down my face for these children. These are children! When did schools become about not allowing children the right to read?
All anyone is going to say is that this is a site decision? Has anyone ever forced you to do anything like that? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the most pressure filled situation you’ve been in, then after you make it through it, you must sit silently, palms down on the desks in front of you and not move or speak. You just get to sit there. No relief or escape from the situation. Has anyone ever made you do that? Probably not.
I hope we can say more than, “it’s a SITE decision.” Please consider saying more.
Apparently, they are still considering.
The point of this is to say, gone are the days of music quietly playing in the background, snacks at your desks, scratch paper to doodle on, crosswords or color sheets for after you are finished, or a book to read. Gone are those days, enter prison days. Jeeze Louize.
How can parents opt out?
This could not be easier. Seriously. You can submit a one liner stating you do not give permission for your child to participate in the OCCT exams. Or, you can copy, paste and adjust this gem below:
Dear (principal, teacher)
I am taking the time to write this letter to thank you for all the work you put into my child’s education. I am a product of public schools and I believe in public schools. I also believe in my child’s teacher and I respect him/her as a professional. I believe that my childs teacher knows exactly where my child is academically. I also trust him/her to do their job in evaluating my child’s learning with in-class assessments and grades on projects, classwork, and homework.
I also believe in my child. I know my child inside and out and they are more than a test score to me. They are more than what any data collection tool can tell you about my child. I want my child to continue pursuing learning and to see school as opportunity to seek knowledge, not a testing factory. I want to protect my child from any additional squelching of confidence, curiosity, and creativity. I am supporting my child. I am refusing for them to participate in the OCCT because I want my child to believe me when I say that I believe in him/her. I do not need a piece of paper to tell me about my child. The school doesn’t either. I am not selling my child out to the State Longitudinal Data System. I am not buying into the fear that schools are failing and my child is failing. I am not going to allow my child to be a part of the data used to promote that message. I am refusing the test.
Again, I refuse for my child to participate because I believe in my child. I believe in his/her teacher. I believe in the school. I believe in public education. The high stakes testing being administered today has no place in any of those entities.
Again, thank you for tirelessly pouring into my child. Thank you for the work you do in public education. And, thank you for respecting my refusal.
You can adapt that letter to say whatever you want. Of course, that letter is my heart. But, I think it is the heart of many. When you create your letter, be sure to say that you are refusing participation in the OCCT. It is imperative to say refuse and to name the test, OCCT.
Opt Out Guides
Now, if you want a more formal letter, that is fine. We have those too! You can visit the United Opt Out site and look under our state to find guides, formal letters guided by legal counsel, and cover letters. I encourage you to also take a look at the get tough guide. Then, add yourself to the map! You do not have to list your information or name.
Questions I can and cannot answer…
Typically, I sit with each person and I walk them through their case. However, there are hours until testing. I cannot do that. There are too many people needing too much info. With that being said, feel free to message me. But, please…. please… look through the FAQ’s here and the questions I cannot answer first. I am a teacher and a mom, so I am busy. I live attached to my phone and try to respond asap. I will pay close attention and have other hands on deck to help me out the next few days, but there is actually a lot of info in these links I am providing. So, check them first. Thank you for understanding!
I cannot answer…
- Will my child’s teacher treat him/her differently if I opt out?
- Will I receive push back from my school?
- Will my child be made to sit and stare?
- Will they provide my child with an alternative assignment?
- What should I expect the schools response to be?
Ok, so I get that all of those questions are real concerns. I would wonder the same thing. However, I have no idea. I wish I knew the workings of every school like that. Actually, I wish there were clear procedures to how opt out is handled. I hope your child’s teacher can see the good in opt out. I hope that you will not have any push back.
My advice is to make these issues clear in your correspondence. Communicate that you want your child to be able to read in the library, or whatever you wish. Ask what accommodations they can make. Ask them to work with you. For the most part, schools have been accommodating and understanding.
That’s all folks…
All I can do now is this last blog post and try to respond to your messages. We are approaching the end of the time frame. I have done over 200 opt outs, probably closer to 300 already in our state. I wish I could add another 0 to the end of that. But, this is higher than any other year! I will tell you that over the course of a week I have gotten over 100 new emails from parents! Like I said at the beginning, parents are feeling it. Kids are feeling it. Teachers are feeling it. Schools are feeling it. No matter how many disgusting “testing is fun” pep assemblies we have or testing reward incentives (gag) that we give, the kids are smarter than that. Nobody is fooled. Nobody is looking forward to the next three weeks. And, it’s ok to not act like this a good thing. It is ok to be real with kids. They deserve honesty and respect.
It’s also ok to opt out. Under HB1384 you have the right to “opt out of any data collection instrument”. IT is also ok not to opt out. This is your decision. You are the parent. You make the decisions for your child!
I am here for support. I can answer questions about 3rd grade retention, 8th grade OCCT and the drivers license, and IEP’s. I can help you if you get something weird back when you submit your refusal letter. I am here. I get it. I was once where you are, submitting my first refusal letter. This is it.
Good luck and solidarity to you!