Letter to Commissioner Chester re: opt-out clarification

To:          Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester
                 Secretary of Education James Peyser
                 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
                 Paul Sagan, Chair
                 James Morton, Vice Chair
                 Katherine Craven
                 Edward Doherty
                 Roland Fryer
                 Margaret McKenna
                 Nathan Moore
                 Michael Moriarty
                 Penny Noyce
                 Mary Ann Stewart

 Re:         Opt Out clarification


Re: Opt-Out Clarification

Commissioner Chester:

We are in receipt of your answer to a query regarding opting out of high-stakes standardized testing. However, we are disappointed by its inaccuracy and confused by its subtly threatening tone and callous disregard for the needs of children.

There is no law requiring individual students, except for 10th-graders, to participate in taking the tests. Districts are required to give the tests and face punishment as districts if they do not meet rates of participation, but those are issues for the district, not the individual student or parent who wishes to opt his or her child out of the tests. It is troubling that you would not say this directly and instead imply legal ramifications when there are none.

But more disturbing is the cruel undercurrent in your answer, which we find unsettling. You imply that the child, who might be as young as eight, must be the one to refuse the test. Then you state that students should stay in the test session for the duration of the test, unless (or until?) they cause a disruption. What theories of child development and learning would lead to this as a policy statement? Further, this statement is contrary to your previous statement in which you wrote that test refusals should be treated with “sensitivity.”

The outrage that surrounded the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary is just one sign that parents, educators and students are ready to demand that our voices be heard and our decisions respected. The threatening tone and inaccurate representation of information in your response is of grave concern, but it will not deter us from speaking out about the harmful abuse high-stakes testing is visiting on young people.

The members of the Less Testing, More Learning MA Coalition, including:

Lisa Guisbond
Nicole LaRose-Sanchez
Deborah McCarthy
Rose Levine
Lisa Tinsley
Heidi Lahey
Ana Maria Nogueira
Dan Clawson
Rachel Shapp
Jennifer Skowronek
Lucy Harris
Kaitlin Frazier
Meg Moloney
Kathy Greeley
Gina Garro
Peter Lahey
Merrie Najimy
Max Parish
Jennifer Freeling
Kara Dattilo
Tammy Johnson
Maureen Olivier