In Favor of Refusal

These are my comments to the Montclair, NJ Board of Education on December 15, 2014 in support of its proposed policy requiring the school district to provide educationally appropriate and non-punitive alternatives for students whose parents refuse to allow them to take the PARCC this spring: 

Thank you for putting the PARCC refusal policy on tonight’s agenda. I urge you to adopt it.

I could urge you to adopt it for dozens of different reasons. I could urge you to adopt it because it would be cruel to force our kids to “sit & stare.” I could urge you to adopt it because the test developer, Pearson, is notorious for its errors in textbooks and testing. I could urge you to adopt it because the questions are developmentally inappropriate and designed to confuse our kids and make them look like failures. I could urge you to adopt it for all of those kids with anxiety or other issues that are exacerbated by a high-stakes testing environment. I could urge you to adopt it because these tests are forcing our best teachers to narrow curriculum, to scale-down or drop project-based learning initiatives, and to suck the joy out of classrooms.

But tonight I stand here to urge you to adopt this policy so that we can join together as a community to push back against test-driven schools. Let’s join together to push back on the state DOE — which itself is beholden to the USDOE — and whose demands are wresting control of our children’s education from you — our local school board.

It is time for us as a community to join educators across the nation in saying no to high-stakes tests’ stranglehold over local districts’ educations of local kids. I taught high school English in western Maine. I can tell you that our needs in Maine were and are very different from our needs in Montclair. One size fits all works in factories, not communities. One size fits all works for widgets, not for people. We should not insist on standardizing our kids or their educations. Our kids are human beings. They are not widgets.

It is time for us to push back on a narrative that lumps our district in with others across the country and then states that “our nation’s schools” are failing. They aren’t. Can Montclair improve? Absolutely. But is Montclair failing the vast majority of its kids? Absolutely not.

Montclair kids have experience dealing with the compromises, cultural differences, and sometimes tricky consensus-building required to thrive in our diverse community. Our schools teach our kids to value kindness, compassion, and their friends’ unique perspectives. These are successes. These are achievements. These intangibles are why I live here. None of them can be measured by standardized tests.

Parents are talking, and parents are ready to push back. The most concrete way we can protest high-stakes standardized testing’s impact on our schools is to vote with our feet by refusing to let our kids participate in the PARCC tests. Please support the refusal policy. Together, we can do better for our kids.

Thank you.

The policy will be put to a vote on January 26, 2015.  I will  keep you updated on the outcome.

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