Guest post from Julie Borst
Why on earth does my daughter have to take this test?
I have been asking that question of school administrators, child study team members and teachers for a lot of years. My daughter has brain injury from birth, causing significant educational delays. M has never come close to being “proficient” in any category of NJASK...of course, she's never actually seen grade level material, but it appears logic is not part of this.
Every year I would protest and was assured that no one thought it was fair. All possible accommodations were made. M would have a supernaturally boring week of filling in bubbles. And, at the end of the school year, I would get the letter from NJDOE telling me my daughter was not proficient at grade level. Yes, thank you, we already know that. How about telling me something I don't know, like at what grade level is she proficient?
Last year, M was in 7th grade and something changed. M was agitated the entire week of testing; she didn't want to eat, she didn't sleep well. In spite of the annual pep talk - don't worry about the test; do what you can; it's not about you; blah, blah, blah – she was miserable. On the last day of testing, she left school in tears. She asked if I could start homeschooling her the next day. When I asked her why, she replied, “I found out this week just how far I am behind my friends” Ugh. That one hurt. M's disability manifests itself in different ways. It's a horrible curse to understand your disability and have the ability to relate it to the “neurotypical” kids who are your friends.
That conversation sent me into research mode. There had to be a way out of taking these tests, especially for a classified student!!! I contacted an old friend who is a Vice-Principal at a NYC high school. She told me about “opting out” and about my rights as a parent. Woo hoo! 14th Amendment rights! Armed with that tidbit of information I had a meeting with our district Superintendent. I informed him of what I had learned and that I would not longer allow M to be tested. To my surprise and great relief, he agreed with me. He, as a teacher and as principal, had witnessed students sobbing with frustration and others becoming physically ill during the test. His suggestion to me was to simply keep M home. Nothing would be held against her...just be sure to know when the retests were taking place because if she were in the building during retests, they would test her. I left that meeting feeling very relieved.
A few weeks ago I contacted my Superintendent to remind him of M opting out. I asked if there was any way for her to go to school the week of retests without her being tested. Other than keeping M home, he wasn't sure what could be done, but he went to find an answer. I know he spoke with at least one other local Superintendent and with the County Superintendent.
I heard back this past Friday from the person who runs the day to day operations of Special Services in my district. She told me that NJDOE had directed them to have M come to school to decline each portion of the exam. The district's interpretation is this: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday (8th grade ELA, Math and Science) we arrive at 8:45am, just as the test is being administered, and report to her office. We will be allowed to be with M. She will give M the test. M will verbally decline to take the test. The test will be marked “Void,” thus making M ineligible for the retest the following week. We go home. The scenario is convoluted, even M thinks so.
I'm very uncomfortable with putting any of the responsibility on M. This is an adult transaction and kids shouldn't have to do anything. This sure looks like NJDOE thinks a minor should be made to decline in front of their peers. Why would a minor's actions/words carry more weight than those of their parents? Was this scenario suggested with the hopes that parents would balk at this kind of responsibility being dumped on their kids? I'm tremendously grateful for administrators who are committed to making M as comfortable as possible.
Over the last year, I've spent hundreds of hours learning about education reform, the impact of Common Core, high stakes testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, etc. I am horrified by what I see. My journey to opting out was very personal and for a very specific reason. However, I'm talking to as many parents as I can about opting out because the broader implications of what these tests will mean for our public education system are completely unacceptable. The best thing any parent can do is learn about what is happening and find your voice!