A Parent-Teacher speaks out for our children and against the ongoing Common Core SBAC abuse

With a powerful and passionate voice, a parent, who is also a teacher, explains why school administrators must stop the inappropriate harassment and abuse of children who have been opted out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

The day began with the news that Juniors at Bridgeport’s Fairchild Wheeler High School [were facing] outrageous abuse for opting out of SBAC.  Rather than treat students and parents with the respect and support the comes with serving as an educator, the magnet school’s principals were engaged an effort to punish students who had been opted out of the SBAC testing.

Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz moved quickly to quell the conflict and made sure school administrators were following proper protocol.  The effort to punish students who had been opted out was rescinded, but the news came too late for some students who were bullied into taking the destructive test.

According to students at the school, instead of allowing opted out students to use their time to do homework and focus on the tests and courses that will actually get them into school, administrators at Fairfield Wheeler High School sought to punish students by assigning an extra academic work that not only would be graded, but that the grade would apply to every course the student was taking this semester.

Following Superintendent Rabinowitz’s intervention, the assignment was called off but students were told to go to the testing rooms despite having been opted out. One student was told they would not be able to graduate unless they took the SBAC test [Which would be illegal], some were told they had to take the test no matter what, while others were told they could refuse to take the test but would need to “sit there and wait while everyone does their testing,” [A violation of the SBAC Testing Protocol.]  Apparently there is even talk that students who have been opted out will now be required to take the “Renaissance” skills test, which is yet another on-line standardized testing program used by some school districts.

As one Bridgeport student wrote this afternoon, “[Students] who attempted to opt out were pressured not to by administrators who said that this test was mandatory and counted towards college. Students were not notified of where they should go if they opted out and some, remained in the classes; sitting and staring. Fairchild Wheeler has handled SBAC Testing in the worst way possible. This demand for reform has never been higher.”

And the student is absolutely right – The corporate education reform industry and their Common Core testing scam is destroying public education in the United States.

To fully understand the depth of the problem one need only read the following piece from a parent/teacher who – as the saying goes – lays out the harsh reality of what is happening.

The powerful and passionate voice of a parent/teacher

Practically every day I tell my seventh and eighth grade students the one thing I want them to learn from me as an English teacher: to the extent that they are able to understand and process what they read, and then are able to communicate their own thoughts in writing, they have unlimited power. Perhaps it is a principle too complex for them to grasp fully just yet; and, yes, some of them roll their eyes when I say things like, “Writing and reading can begin the conversation that will change the world.” Some will even challenge (rightfully so) by asking, “What if you write and no one listens? What if you write and still things don’t change?” I tell them what I truly believe: when you write, you bring voice to your beliefs and for that alone you should feel empowered. I may send my words out there to the universe and if I believe in the importance of what I have to say, that is enough. We all have to believe that our words matter; I couldn’t be a teacher if I abandoned the conviction that writing matters.

To my especially introverted students who ask, “What if you’re afraid to say what you believe?” my answer comes from my experience. When you are afraid, I tell them, you quietly wait until what you have to say becomes more important than your fear.

There are times then, when I must test my mettle. I must practice the principles I espouse or lose a little of my self-respect. I find myself in such a situation now, and—not without a little trepidation—I must write.

My daughter is a junior at Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School in Bridgeport. She made the decision to transfer to Fairchild Wheeler when she was entering her sophomore year; before that, she grew up in the Fairfield public school system, a town we chose to settle in precisely because of its excellent reputation in education. But my daughter has always been a risk-taker; she doesn’t do many things without questioning the Why and, as I have been teaching in Bridgeport for almost ten years, we were aware that a new school was opening and she boldly decided to leave behind what was known for what she perceived would be a wonderful adventure.

My daughter blossomed at Fairchild Wheeler from the beginning. Her teachers have not only been bright, enthusiastic, and clearly experts in their fields, they have engaged and captivated my daughter’s imagination and zeal for learning. She has taken two ECE classes (earning college credit from UConn) and has developed as a writer and thinker far beyond her years. She has straight A’s, is a member of the National Honor Society, and is on the student council. She took and passed every section of CAPT last year and has taken both the ACT and the SAT in preparation for college applications. Her teachers tell me that, while she can be vociferous in her opinions, she is respectful to the adults in the building as well as to her peers.

Meanwhile, I have spent the past two or three years trying to educate myself about the Common Core State Standards and the new standardized test which was supposedly designed to align with those standards. SBAC was rolled out as a field test last year and this year marks its first as an official standardized exam given to grades three through eight and grade eleven. There is a tremendous amount of history behind the controversy surrounding the test; many people outside of education are only beginning to hear about it because of the publicity now given to “opt-out” groups who are dominating the New York system and, on a smaller scale, our state of Connecticut.

When I received an email from my daughter’s administrator informing parents that Fairchild Wheeler’s juniors would be participating in the SBAC, I was somewhat surprised: as a science magnet school, I wasn’t really sure how much autonomy they had but I had held on to hope that SBAC would be my ethical dilemma and not my daughter’s. She was aware of my tempestuous relationship with this incredibly problematic exam; I co-direct the Connecticut Writing Project Summer Institute for teachers at Fairfield University each year and I collect articles on pedagogy as well as current educational policy, through which we practice our response to non-fiction (a big component of Common Core). I faithfully read the education blogs written by Jonathan Pelto and Diane Ravitch; I follow the writing of Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center as I grapple with so much of the misguided education reform which is strangling the efforts and morale of excellent teachers.

That said, my students are taking the SBAC exam. As I write this, we are exactly mid-way through the process and will resume on Monday. In no way have I ever entertained the notion of proselytizing to my students my personal or political beliefs about SBAC nor would I. It’s not my job. Instead, I come armed with Jolly Ranchers and a smile on my face, encouraging words at the ready. To the best of our ability, we practiced for the test; we utilized class time to convey what information we had in order to help our students feel prepared. Still, after the first day of testing, when one of my seventh graders said, “Ms. Roneson, I get that they want us to feel stupid, I just don’t understand why,” I had nothing to say. Sometimes Jolly Ranchers really are the best answer.

My daughter and I discussed the upcoming SBAC and we both agreed that opting out was—for us—the right thing to do. She had too much information not to have an opinion of her own and, of course, I supported her. We tweaked an opt-out template we found online, I signed it, and she delivered it to her principal. His reaction was one of surprise and dismay. According to my daughter, he belittled the decision, even questioning who actually wrote the letter. He told her he would need to “bring this to the board,” and would, of course, email me. Indeed, his email to me acknowledged the letter I signed, but suggested that both my daughter and I were operating under “misconceptions” about SBAC and he asked that we set up a meeting. I emailed back, more specifically detailing my serious reservations regarding the test and further stating my support for my daughter’s decision. I closed my email by telling him that, should he still wish to meet, I would be happy to and provided him with times and days of my availability. There was no response after that.

On the Friday before testing was to begin on Monday, during Eve’s first period, another school principal entered the classroom with an announcement. Those students opting out of the SBAC exam, he told them, would be working on a lengthy writing assignment during the time other students are taking the exam. Not only will this assignment count as a significant grade, it will be incorporated into their semester grades for every single class they are taking. In addition, a portion of the writing piece will need to be completed in whatever world language the student is currently taking.

My understanding of what occurred—and here again, I must rely on my own process of research and reading over the past couple of years—was not only unethical, but amounts to coercion, harassment, and bullying of the most blatant form. My recourse needs next to come in the form of further correspondence, where I state sources which assure me that “there will be no negative or punitive consequences for [my] child whatsoever as a result of [my] exercising [my] parental right to refuse testing on [her] behalf (i.e. negative or punitive consequences on [my] child’s workload, grades, grade placement or promotion, class placement, ability to graduate, etc.)” (www.saynotocommoncore.net).

I will send that email because I know that I have to; if what I tell my students is true—that the most powerful tool I have is my written word—I have to send that email. And I will save it and print a copy for my files because it is the safe thing to do. I will walk into the school that I love on Monday knowing that some people in the district will hold disdain for what I have done; I may, as some of my colleagues have warned, feel “suspected” and labeled insubordinate for giving voice to my understanding. But there are students at Fairchild Wheeler who, like my daughter, opted out of SBAC with the support of their parents. After the announcement of the consequence for doing so, many of them made their way to their respective administrators to tell them they had “changed their minds.” They would take the test. After all, there isn’t a lot of processing time: the testing begins on Monday.

Julie Roneson

Shelton, CT