Standing up to testing? I applaud you

Last night I took part in a “Comments” discussion on Lisa Nielsen’s Innovative Educator blog.   The post in question was titled “Tell Bully Principal How You Feel” .  In it, Lisa called for her readers to send emails to a principal in Oceanside who had denied  a parents’ request to allow her son to opt-out of the standardized testing because she felt it was in her son’s best interest to do so.

Part of the Principal’s email response read as follows:

If without medical justification, Joseph is absent from school on any day during the Assessment period, the District will deem this absence as unexcused. Further, if you keep Joseph home from school during the Assessment period, without medical verification, it is within the District’s discretion to deem these absences as indicia of educational neglect, which would leave the District little choice but to contact Child Protective Services (“CPS”). Pursuant to the New York State Education Department’s 2012 School Administrator’s Manual, a student will receive a final score of “999″ and will be counted as “not tested” if: (1) he is absent from the entire test; (2) he refuses the entire test; (3) he is absent for any session; or (4) he is present for all sessions, but does not respond to even one question on the test. Accordingly, if Joseph engages in any one of these activities, he will receive a final score of 999, he will be counted as not tested, he may receive an unexcused absence, and CPS may have to be called.

Lisa called upon her readers to email the principal at his public email address and demand an apology for threatening to call CPS on this parent.

Cut to the comments, where someone (they chose to post as “Anonymous” which figures) wrote the following:

If this [principal] is not compliant with laws that govern his building, he is putting quite a bit in jeopardy–his career, possible funding for his school. There are liability issues, there are negligence issues that work when a student is not in school for an extended period of time and very often, by law, a truancy or CPS officer is informed and if they are not, then the school might be found to be at fault.

I am sure–and I’m sure he is sure–that CPS wouldn’t charge that mother with anything; however, if the kid stayed out of school for the specific number of days and the proper procedure is to call CPS, then he has to call CPS because that is the law and if you found out that your child’s school was not following state- and federally mandated regulations, wouldn’t you consider that to be against the moral compass of those charged for overseeing our children?

This respondent has no problem with the principal in question because he was following state and federally mandated regulations and failure to do so might jeopardize his career and funding for his school.  He also mentions liability issues that result from a student being absent “for an extended period of time”.    He says that the principal stating that Child Protective Services may have to be called if the child is absent for the test, is present but refuses to take the test or fails to answer EVEN ONE QUESTION is not a threat.    He’s just doing his job and following the rules.   It’s not personal, it’s protocol.  The respondent says that not following regulations would violate the “moral compass of those charged with overseeing our children.”

That noise you hear is me gagging.  Moral compass?   There is no moral compass at work in this principal’s response.

How many injustices are committed in the name of just doing one’s job or following protocol?   From the emergency room to the school room, it seems that dealing with people as individual human beings is out of fashion; it’s all about following the rules.

To make an already ridiculous matter worse, standardized testing serves no purpose.  Ask any educator worth their salt and they will tell you as much.  John Gatto, in his Bartleby Project, called for all students to take their test booklets and write, “I respectfully decline to take your test” on the back.   High stakes testing is stressful to the point of being considered harmful.   Even as unschoolers, state regulations require us to test every other year beginning in 4th Grade.    We did it once.  I don’t want to have to do it ever again.  Even though Maya & Ben are fully aware that I could care less how well they score on such a test,  Maya was nervous and upset about it.

Justifying callous behavior or threats by saying you are just following the rules, or following your orders, or following protocol is simply unacceptable.  Even if this principal had no intention of defying the regulations, he could have handled things more diplomatically and compassionately.    Telling a parent they might be charged with neglect because they dare to challenge the administration of a useless test?    That should be the crime.

Of course, in my opinion, the best route is to not take part in the school culture at all.   I applaud those parents of schooled children who are standing up and saying no to testing; I applaud the educators who are doing the same.   In my view, this is a step in the right direction – a step away from blind acceptance of compulsory schooling and toward allowing children the only real education there is; the kind of self-directed real world learning unschoolers have embraced since John Holt first coined the phrase over 30 years ago.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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