The Opt-Out Movement of Common Core Testing Spreads to Texas

The Common Core-aligned practice field tests are coming to American public schools in April; but it is only in preparation for their official launch in Spring 2015. This year's tests will not even be graded, according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) website, one of the two assessment partners, that notes the purpose of this trial run is to test the entire online assessment system. Practice tests are also online. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers  (PARCC) will also conduct the same field tests for their member states.

According to their website, SBAC represents 22 states. They claim to educate more than 19 million of the nation's public K-12 students in states that "share a commitment to developing a next-generation assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards that provides educators with meaningful feedback and actionable data." Meanwhile, PARCC boasts 18 member states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the PARCC's company site, they "received an $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system."

This year, Common Core grassroots activist groups made up of parents and educators have a little ground game of their own. Just prior to the week of the test, two cities--Denver and New York--will stage very different kinds of protest rallies. In both, parents are opting-out, refusing to allow their children to take the new standardized high-stakes testing that comes with the mandate. The opt-out movement is doing a lot to raise awareness about SBAC and PARCC testing. 

Peggy Robertson with United Opt Out National (UOO) told Breitbart News that the opt-out movement is spreading like wildfire. She said, "One night I helped 18 different states." Robertson says she hears from people where ever high-stakes testing is taking place like Florida, Connecticut, Tennessee, New York, California, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

Texas may not be opting out over SBAC or PARCC practice testing but UUO has a presence in the Lone Star State for parents who want to opt-out of existing high-stakes assessments. Breitbart News spoke to Edy Chamness, Director of Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests, who explained that even in Texas there is an over-use of similar assessments. According to Chamness, "Only in Texas can you go from three to five tests and call it a reduction." 

Chamness was referring to the 2012 shift in annual student assessments from the Texas Assessments Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to the current Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).  According to Chamness, there was a lot of hearsay but Texas never had 15 exit-exams because it was never implemented. Still, she pointed out that there are still a host of middle-of-the-year (MOY) benchmarks, summatives and practice tests that precede the annual springtime test. It's something Chamness believes adds up to a lot of teaching to the test and wasted learning time.

UOO houses opt-out information for Texas parents on the national site, including links and a sample opt out letter. UOO recommends parents visit the Texas Opt-Out of State Tests page on Facebook where there is a sample letter for opting-out that cites the Texas Education Code, Chapter 26 also known as the Parent's Bill of Rights and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution among the legal protections to remove children from this kind of testing. UOO's national website provides tailored opt-out guides  for all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on each state's education code. 

Like in states that question the Common Core assessments, Texas Parents Opt out of State Tests also questions many of the same concerns as to how high-stakes assessments affect children, highlighting their socio-emotional well-being and destroying their love of learning. Chamness told Breitbart News that Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests has not taken off like in other states associated with Common Core.  She believes this may be the result of other available educational choices. She said, "In Texas, when they opt-out, they really opt-out."

However, on the national level United Opt Out has momentum. According to Robertson, the movement has grown like wildfire since 2011 when the non-profit was formed. She added, "The two biggest changes I see in the opt-out movement now is that parents have gotten really brave. They are saying my kid isn't going to take these tests." Robertson is a teacher in Colorado by day, a blogger and activist by night.

UOO's event Occupy the DOE was held in Spring 2012 and 2013 at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The website literature cheekily dubs the event a different kind of occupation. The group's mission statement focuses fighting high-stakes testing. This year's Denver-held event is March 28-30. According to the website, our unions at the grassroots level, corporate education reform, and what you need to know to take it down are among the colorful topics. Activists lending support include Kris Neilsen (Children of the Core), Lois Weiner (The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice), Mark Naison and Anthony Cody. Robertson told Breitbart News that attendees will leave with action plans. She also hopes that this event will be a good opportunity for local school districts in Colorado to connect up with each other.

Meanwhile, on March 29, New York will hold "i Refuse!" an ideologically tamer grassroots rally. Elected officials, educators and parents will come together the week before PARCC practice tests begin.  According to Mark Ferreris, one of a handful of event organizers, i Refuse! is about parents and educators standing up against  an out-of-control education policy that ignores the needs of the children by opting out of these assessments. Partner groups that came together to create this event are Stop Common Core in New York State, Badass Parents Association, Take Action Against Common Core, Long Islanders United Against the Common Core, and Mount Sinai Residents for Common Sense Education. 

Dr. Joseph Rella, Superintendent of Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station, is a fierce opponent of the Common Core. He will donate the district's high school football field to i Refuse! to show his support. Last summer, Rella allowed the field to be used by Common Core critics for”Students, Not Scores." Rella received a lot of notice nationwide for his vocal anti-Common Core meme, "Stop it, fix it or scrap it."  

Breitbart News spoke to Rella about parent's decisions to opt-out of testing, the focus of the rally. He said, "Parents’ legitimate concerns have been totally ignored by the Governor, Commissioner, and the Regents. As a result, more and more parents have decided to refuse to have their children take the tests. Since no one at the State level was protecting their children from many abusive practices, parents have taken matters into their own hands – and rightly so."

Discussing the testing are area Teachers' Union President Beth Dimino and Mary Calamia, LCSW, who works with parents and children in Suffolk County's 20 school districts. This winter, Calamia testified against Common Core at the New York Assembly forum. She told Breitbart News why it's so important to opt-out. 

"The testing drives the data that feeds the Common Core.  When we refuse the tests, we cut off its food supply.  It's an integral part of a greater mission - to eliminate Common Core from our schools entirely," she said.

Yvonne Gasperino, co-founder of Stop Common Core in New York State and local principal Tim Farley will address a parent's right to refuse testing as a form of civil disobedience. Author and retired teacher Dave Greene and blogger Mercedes Schneider will look at the myth of the failing public school.

There's no getting around what binds everyone together in the opt-out movement, the Common Core assessments. Assemblyman Al Graf  agrees. He told Breitbart News, “As a New York State representative with a degree in elementary education, I cannot stand by and watch this poorly designed curriculum destroy our children's educational opportunities." 

Recently, Graf introduced legislation with Senator Lee Zeldin and Assemblyman Ed Ra to place a moratorium on Common Core and its assessments for three years. He will be at the rally.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom


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