Opting Out

I was sent an article from our local paper about a family that is opting out of the state standardized tests. WOW! “Process is more important than filling in circles.”

I am excited. I will be calling the district first thing tomorrow to do the same. Interestingly, last year I was told we couldn’t opt out of the MCA’s (state tests) because they were required for graduation. I believe they actually were then — but the legislature passed revisions in the spring.

I can’t find anything about this on the state education site or our district site. Here’s what the state site says:

Based on new legislation, the graduation assessment requirements have changed. Additional information will be provided as soon as possible once a comprehensive review of the new requirements is completed.  cite

I might go so far as to contact the reporter. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a group of parents together to talk about opting out of these tests?


I’ve tried calling the district. No response. I’ll keep trying, then will perhaps try to find my way through the maze of the Dept. of Ed to get an answer.

The scarier part for me was talking to my daughter about this. She’s a junior, so would be up for the Math MCA. If it’s true that they no longer need it to graduate, there is no benefit to her of taking the test. I proposed the idea of opting out. She did not like the idea, I think because it would make her different. It would rock the boat, yes. But it is a bigger concern to me that she’s been “brainwashed” into doing whatever the school says without questioning why.

I don’t Like Testing

I don’t. I don’t like the reliance on standardized tests. I don’t like that my kids have to spend so much time “prepping” for tests. I see on my district calendar that kids are already testing…. I don’t like the fact that schools/districts have to have a staff person to coordinate the testing  – money that could be fund other types of staff, like teachers! I don’t like that my children are defined by the scores they get on the test.

I appreciated this article yesterday in Salon, “America’s Toxic Culture of Testing” by Luba Vangelova. I love the main quote:

Our country’s testing obsession benefits corporations, not kids.

That pretty much sums it up, although she has a number of other excellent points:

  • test prep eats time that could be used for other things – such as play
  • costs a great deal of money
  • teaches students that they can’t be “wrong”
  • labels kids
  • leads to a less creative environment

Just read the article.


The Learning Revolution

I had the honor of hearing Jonathan Mooney speak recently. This is an excellent quick peek at his message of the need for a different look at education. We can no longer define intelligence as just reading, as the good kid is the one who sits still.

Just watch it. It’s only 7 minutes.

Getting Through

Parents and teachers should do everything possible to help kids get through high school without hating it.

-Gary Stager

Saw a recent tweet from Scott McLeod referencing this post by Gary Stager.

Wow. That is exactly what I’m facing right now with my 16-year old. How can this be? How can Gary Stager know this?

I don’t know the context of the entire post (great bits of wisdom he is sharing with parents from a Colorado school) but this bit really hit home. While I’m grateful that it appears that I’m not the only one in this situation, it is dreadfully sad that this is even an option!

My daughter (a junior) already hates high school. And honestly, who can blame her? Her every movement is questioned, regulated and controlled. She is told what she is supposed to learn, how she should learn it and how she has to demonstrate that learning. It’s even worse that the type of learning/assessment expected is largely rote, heavy reading and standardized multiple choice testing — all of which is difficult/boring for most kids, not to mention kids with attention deficits and dyslexia. For creative kids, this is enough to suck the soul out of learning and kill their spirit.

Yet, she’s blamed for not working hard enough.

Huh — have you ever seen her work on the lines to a play? unwrap a very difficult passage in a choral piece? curate visuals for her blog or develop a playlist? Watch her taking pictures sometime. She can work, she can focus. She just can’t do it on stuff that isn’t interesting. But she’s told that all the things she finds stimulating aren’t valid. Not explicitly, but truly, that’s what traditional schooling tells us all the time, everytime you enter a class, take a test or do homework.

I don’t blame the teachers. Most of them have their heart in the right place. They just have unrealistic workloads, too many standards to teach, and ridiculous pressure for these tests. Please give them some space to do what they want to do, why most of them went into the profession.

So, Gary Stager, how do I get my daughter through these last two years of high school?


I ran across two things with opinions about “extra” curricular activities yesterday. I have lots of opinions about extracurriculars!

Yes, academics are important, but are they everything? I don’t think so. In my experience, it seems some of the better life learning lessons come from the extras. Like what? Like how to work hard, how perseverance pays off, team work, critical thinking, thinking on your feet, planning, and on and on. No, it’s not learning how to solve a calculus equation or what battles were in the Civil War or how to write a 5-paragraph essay. Those are important, but so are the other lessons that come from the extras.

First thing I saw yesterday was a blog post, “9 Ways a Theater Degree Trumps a Business Degree.” I don’t know this blogger, but I certainly liked what he had to say. Skills learned from a theater degree are definitely applicable in the “real” world. Being on time. Thinking on your feet. Being resourceful. Being a team player. and more.

Second thing yesterday was #ptchat (a chat on Twitter. super fun.) The topic for yesterday was the balance between leisure and academics. The twitterverse lit up! I was happy to see lots of support from the teachers/admins in the chat for the extras. I was a little concerned by some of the emphasis on academics — that those always have to come first. There was some good conversation. (See the archives for all the tweets)

My input below:




I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dread the start of school. For example:


That’s a rather light-hearted look at why I dread school. I dread the schedule, getting kids up way too early, needing to be places on a strict schedule. I far prefer the less intense, self-driven schedule and “program” of summer. My kids are always super busy no matter what we do, but in the summer it’s doing things they love.

That’s the key. School isn’t something they love. It’s something they endure because they are supposed to. Yes, yes, I know. They need to learn how to do school to go to college, to work, etc., etc. They need to learn to “get along with people” and it exposes them to new things. Guess what. All this happens in the summer, too, when they’re doing things they love.

My concern with school is that I see them learning to do what they’re told. They learn that they are supposed to ingest content and spit it back in the way the system wants them to. Often (at least for my daughter) it’s in the form of a multiple choice test. I see very little evidence of the buzzwords that should be obvious: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

One of my favorite bloggers wrote about this same feeling this week (My Summer of Confusion). He is much more eloquent than I am. He is also a former teacher and a leader in the education reform thinking, so he carries much more weight than I do. Here are his thoughts as his kids start school this year:

I’m less and less confident that the emphasis of their time in school will be dedicated to inquiry, to exploring their passions, to helping them create real, meaningful work that lives in the world and just maybe changes it for the better. As much as their teachers might want that, the reality is as a system, we’ve hunkered down against any real innovation, cut budgets and vision regarding technology, and decided to pursue the more traditional paths for “excellence” as in number of AP tests taken, high state test scores, SAT scores.

He acknowledges that he is the outlier, that most parents seem to want more AP classes, “rigor” and high test scores. I, too, have acknowledged many times on this blog that I know I’m the outlier. I don’t want more tests, I don’t want more AP classes. I want my kids to create art to communicate, produce videos to express their thoughts, create solutions to problems in their communities. It doesn’t matter one bit to me if they can get a 4 or 5 on an AP test. Richardson has the same experience I do:

…whenever I say that some of the most important learning that our kids can do in school is almost impossible to quantify and fold into a list, there’s little response. The subject gets changed.

The emphasis in the quote is mine.

I run into the need for “quantifiable results” all the time. I just reviewed a short report on an iPad pilot project in our district. One of the main indicators of a successful pilot was “increasing test scores.” There were a few other indicators, such as increased engagement, but the main measure was these test scores. It is exceedingly disappointing to know that that is how they are measuring success. Technology is a tool that increases our ability to move away from needing “testable” knowledge. Yet, that is how they measure success. Tragic.

Interestingly, though, I’m not so sure I’m the outlier. I’m not sure I’m the only one who doesn’t want more tests, more moving away from the arts and creativity. I think, i’m just the only one willing to speak up. At a recent meeting with a number of parents, I brought up my concerns about the over-reliance on testing. I expected to be ignored, as usual. But instead, the parents agreed with me! We had a short, but powerful, conversation that made it very clear to me that others feel the same way. Now, we just have to speak up and make them listen.

We have a lot of work to do.

Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids | New Republic

Definitely worth a read: “Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids | New Republic” by Elizabeth Weil.

When my daughter was in kindergarten (she starts 11th grade tomorrow), my husband and I were horrified by the expectation that all these 5 and 6 year olds were expected to sit still. Too bad we didn’t act on our impulses and start thinking more critically about the education system at the point – our daughter would’ve been better served. Instead, she learned how to sit still, look like she was learning, and how to play the game.

My daughter isn’t one of those kids who had trouble sitting still when she was supposed to. We never had issues with her behavior. I wish we would have. I’m not sure that knowing how to tow the line, sit in a circle and listen passively to an adult is what she needs to develop life skills. Even more, she has mastered the skill of looking like she’s paying attention when she really isn’t. That’s not a good skill to learn. Thanks for teaching her that one.