– Robert Penta, Medford City Councilor
Knowing about your children’s rights regarding the upcoming Common Core PARCC assessment exam.
… and your right to “OPT OUT!”
This Common Core/PARCC issue I’m discussing is vitally important to every parent in Medford and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so I urge you to take the time to read and consider this article I have put together.
Throughout this essay I shall present in simple terms my thought process. It is one that I have not taken lightly.
To be fair, there are people who will agree and disagree with me on this matter, and that will be their right.
During the past five weeks I have been speaking out at the City Council on Medford’s upcoming Common Core PARCC field testing. The testing is scheduled for some randomly pre-selected grades and students within our Medford Public Schools.
If Common Core and the PARCC field assessment test is accepted after the next two year tryout, then the whole Common Core undertaking and implementation will present a major educational change and huge financial demand upon our community.
As such, I believe it important and necessary to speak out early about this extremely important matter.
At the Thursday (3-20-2014) public forum held at the Carron Theatre, Medford High, there were interesting comments and positions presented regarding Common Core and PARCC. Participating at the forum were personnel from Medford’s school department led by Superintendent Belson, the State Department of Education, parents, and a group of Medford elected officials including myself.
For the purpose of this writing, I wish to comment on one particular issue out of the many that were discussed that evening … that being a parent’s right to not have their child take this exam or as it is better known as “opting out”.
I believe that we can all agree that smart and informed parents want strong public schools in their communities. There now comes from Washington a top down federal to state mandate claiming the alleged problems in public education in the U.S. can be corrected through Common Core and PARCC testing. This, eventually will include increased regulations, federal standardized testing requirements, and mandates regarding what and how our children should be taught .
Since those Medford students selected will also be taking the MCAS test at approximately the same time, the questioning has been presented as to teacher and student preparing for both tests knowing some other class subject has to be forfeited. As was stated at the March 20th meeting by Assistant Superintendent Diane Caldwell, Medford is putting in an inordinate amount of time to prepare for a sampling field test.
STUDENTS PUT AT DISADVANTAGE
In January at a Medford School Committee Meeting Ms. Caldwell emphasized that “it will be difficult for our students … and further … we we’re a little bit concerned about the instructional time our kids will be losing”. Additionally, she stated “It’s just a lot of pressure on our teaching staff and our kids.”
Knowing that neither the teacher, the parent, the student nor the school will be able to attain any scores and/or results compounds the Common Core PARCC agenda. One may ask why?
The results will be put into a melting pot assessment of all the kids throughout our state, at minimum, to come up with a standard that is universal for all… if Common Core is to be adopted according to Common Core PARCC state education bureaucrats.
Personally, that to me is wrong and carries a complete load of bias against any other student’s knowledge who never takes the exam.
As a further reference point of concern, it has been noted that PARCC tests will not be in sync with MCAS and local curriculum standards. MCAS and PARCC testing have major important differences, including the timing of tests, the availability of individualized graphic organizers and reference sheets, the availability of new accommodations for ELL students, and the expansion of some MCAS accommodations for all students taking PARCC.
The untested and unproven Common core and PARCC field testing assessments goes hand-in-glove with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which was developed initially by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), with financial incentives provided by the federal government through the 2009 Race to the Top funding.
From the 45 states that originally signed on, there are less than 19 left who are participating, for which Massachusetts is one.
The National Federation of Teachers have ended their 5 year multi-million dollar annual relationship with the Bill Gates funding for Common Core after rank and file national union members have expressed a deep distrust of the Common Core approach to educational reform.
Additionally, another major organization, the National Teachers Association and Union has come out saying that a course correction is needed to slow down this push toward Common Core.
As such, this matter has presented interesting issues of law because the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the 1970 General Educational Provisions Act and the 1979 law establishing the U.S. Department of Education all prohibit a national curriculum law for which Common Core and PARCC is a federal to state mandate..
MEDFORD PARENTS DILEMMA:
At this point without discussing the pros and cons of Common Core and PARCC any further ( I’ll keep that for a future writing) is the at- present dilemma of Medford parents as well as others throughout our state and country “… does my child have to take this exam and is there a penalty if he or she “opts out?”
On January 16, 2014, a written letter request was made by the nationally recognized Boston Pioneer Institute to Mitchell Chester, the State’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education who has been instrumental in orchestrating Common Core and PARCC nationwide while serving as the Chairperson of the PARCC Governing Board. The Pioneer Institute request asked if Massachusetts has received a waiver from the federal government that would allow students between grades 3 and 8 to go without testing allowing for no consequences for those who don’t take the exam. To date, to the best of my knowledge, an answer has not been forthcoming.
WHY PARENTS SHOULD HAVE STUDENTS OPT-OUT:
Further within the Pioneer letter was stated that “local school districts can legally refuse to give state run but federal-state accepted mandated tests because they don’t address the legally adopted standards and curriculum at the local level as addressed in the MA 1993 Educational Reform Act. Unless state law explicitly forbids parents from opting their kids out of SBAC or PARCC field tests, then parents can do so, and should. There is no Massachusetts law that prohibits an “opt-out” position “.
Conversely, there is no Massachusetts law that provides for an “opt out” position.
Be it in Massachusetts and nationwide, this “opt-out” issue is now becoming an increasing concern for superintendents, school committees, parents and teacher unions as seen in Belchertown, Northampton, Quaban, Somerville, Norfolk, Ludlow, Worcester, Cambridge, the Tantasquo Regional School District and Peabody. to name a few.
MASSACHUSETTS SHOULD/CAN OPT OUT:
The Peabody School Committee action as emphasized at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODvRtV4aabE ( a 35 minute meeting) clearly demonstrates a school committee’s educational “opt-out” position and further a push back vote to recommend that Massachusetts opt-out all together from Common Core and PARCC.
Worcester originally has taken on the Massachusetts “opt-out” lead position. On March 19, 2014 in a letter from Melinda J. Boone, Ed.D., the Worcester Superintendent of Schools wrote to parents/guardians in part about students PARCC participation. Boone stated “Should you choose for your child not to participate in the field test, please notify your child’s principal prior to the testing date. Your child’s school will be notifying you of the testing dates soon. There will be no academic or disciplinary penalty for not participating, and appropriate accommodations will be provided during testing time.”
On Tuesday evening, March 18, 2014 at Framingham State College at a PARCC public meeting, Senior Associate Education Commissioner Robert Bickerton answered the following when asked in particular about a child’s opting out position: “What we said was we have no authority under the law to support an opt-out of any kind by the school, by the district, by the parent or by the student. Further into his comments he states “There are no consequences in the Educational Reform Act for a student who doesn’t take the test. The fact is that we believe there is a benefit of our student that actually can shape the tests so that in the future we are giving the right exams and the answers to the right questions”. Commissioner Bickerton stated further “Parents, if they withhold their child from participating in school ( regarding this exam) there is a truancy law and I am not invoking that here … what I am saying here we are not going to force people …its just common sense”. That meeting can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mass-Parents-Opt-Out-of-PARCC-Pilot-Testing/168197043382200
With that said and with no Medford School Committee official position as yet coupled with the comment from Medford Superintendent Belson at the March 20th public forum on Common Core and PARCC wherein he stated (paraphrasing): “… that if a parent wished to not have his or her child take the exam he would entertain such a request.
Public school awareness to this issue should be communicated to all participating parents and school principles of the pre-selected grades and students.
Parents and guardians of all students involved have a right and responsibility to let their school committee know their position on what could be an over demanding and financial nightmare for Medford and every other city and town throughout our United States if Common Core PARCC becomes adopted.
I conclude that it is never too early to request of your elected representatives to have their opinions and votes on this most important City issue.
To tell or lead a parent/guardian to believe that their child doesn’t or can not have an “opt-out” position is unfair and wrong.