Sunday, February 24, 2013

TIme to OPT OUT of PSSAs

My letter to ASD parents encouraging them to opt out of PSSA testing. Please feel free to share.

Dear friend and public school advocate,

Please consider opting your child out of harmful PSSA testing. Parents across the country are choosing to opt out, because we have the power to stop this bad policy that is destroying public education and robbing our children of a well rounded education. Please visit for more information. I strongly believe that as a parent, and a teacher, I have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws (NCLB) that harm children. Opting out is the right thing to do. Civil disobedience is necessary because the well being of our children is at stake.

Brave teachers in Seattle have boycotted their flawed MAP test. There is a growing movement against standardized testing. Many PTAs and school boards have signed the national resolution on high stakes testing. Some superintendents in major cities have placed a moratorium on excessive testing. 11 years of testing under NCLB has not improved learning. Our schools have been unfairly labeled as "failures" based only on flawed test score data. The tests do not benefit children in any way. Testing, standards, and "rigor" won't close the achievement gap, but proven methods like access to books, a rich curriculum, recess, PE, nutrition, health care, living wage jobs for parents, developmentally appropriate practices, after school activities, pre-school, the arts, will help protect children from the devastating impact of poverty on learning. We have a very high child poverty rate in Allentown, that's why scores are low. Testing and data driven reforms are a charade, a political scheme to set up our neighborhood public schools to fail so they can be privatized. Unfortunately, both political parties endorse these bad reform policies. The following information is from my friend Dr. Timothy Slekar, head of the teacher education dept. at Penn State.

Why Opt Out of PSSAs?

After 11 years of PSSAs, childhood anxiety disorders have dramatically risen. Our children have been denied a fully comprehensive education (reductions or elimination of history, science, art, music, phys ed). Our children are being used to provide data that will label our children, teachers, school, administrators, and community a failure. Our tax money (our money) has been diverted to testing and data management companies instead of schools and children.

How to Opt Out.

1) make an appointment with the school to review the PSSA test.

2) sign a confidentiality agreement.

3) review the tests.

4) write a letter that simply states that participation in PSSAs violates your religious/moral and or ethical principles.

Sample Letter

Dear Superintendent,

Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from any State standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.

Remember, the school personnel are not allowed to ask you to give specific details about why you are opting out. They are not allowed to threaten you with negative consequences for your child. And Keystones do not count for graduation until 2017.

So before March Madness (PSSA testing) begins please take some time to seriously consider the future of your child's education. Remember, our children only get one chance at a quality education. The PSSAs (NCLB) and the culture of high stakes testing have denied a generation of children a quality education. It is time to put an end to this punitive system. It's time to allow our teachers to get back to what they do best -- teach. It's time to demand that our public schools be given back to us. It's time to make sure our children receive the education they deserve. It's time to OPT OUT!

Please pass this along!

Angie Villa

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Telling The Children They Are Failures

Governor Corbett has labeled my child a low achieving failure
The unfair labeling of our city schools as "low achieving" or "failing" is demoralizing to the students, parents, teachers, and concerned citizens who  work hard every day to improve our schools. Our city schools do more than educate, they are also community centers. Some schools provide food, clothing, and medical care to homeless students and needy families. When our local "newspaper" misinforms and repeatedly reports  on our schools in a negative light in order to stir up controversy, fear, or to sell papers, this damages our community. Property values decrease, and our neighborhoods become undesirable. 

My child attends a failing school. He is an honor student, and performs in the school orchestra. His school has been labeled "failing" based on one flawed standardized test. Governor Corbett looked only at reading and math PSSA scores and used this formula to unfairly label schools as "low achieving" failures. This is an injustice to students and teachers who work hard despite Corbett's deep education cuts, and the overwhelming personal struggles some students face every day. 

Children and schools are so much more than test scores. Teaching is about relationships built on trust and love. Many teachers at "failing" schools spend hundreds even thousands of dollars of their own money to purchase supplies because budgets have been slashed. Public schools provide meals for kids who come to school hungry. They provide after school activities and enrichment opportunities. They are PTAs where parents, teachers, and other citizens come together and volunteer to help children. Our city schools partner with local businesses. Our regular public schools accept ALL students, and provide services for kids with special needs, and children with behavior problems. Schools celebrate students through performances and art exhibitions. Look these school children in the eyes Governor Corbett, since you have labeled them as failures.

The only thing AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act) measures is SES (socio-economic status). Schools that serve suburban or affluent children do not have low test scores. Schools that serve poor children do. Poverty negatively impacts learning. That's a fact. The effects of poverty, like malnutrition and stress, even impact cognitive development. Standardized testing does not improve learning or benefit children. See the National Academies of Science study, or go to FairTest  for the facts on NCLB and testing. There are many studies that show NCLB has been a massive failure, yet we are still testing. I have seen the damage first hand as a teacher and as a parent of a child who has been part of the experiment for 7 years.

How about fully funding city schools, meeting the needs of students, and  protecting children from the devastating effects of poverty? How about living wage jobs so moms don't have to work two jobs and be away from kids? How about Investing in early childhood ed, providing access to books, nutrition, health care, and a well rounded curriculum, instead of testing and more rigorous standards? These are proven methods that help children learn.  

Competition and vouchers will not improve public education, equitable funding will. We have a poverty problem, not an education problem. But both political parties, and school boards are not addressing the real problems. It's time to resist education mandates that don't work. It's time to boycott useless testing that is being used to destroy public education. We have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws that harm children. Excessive testing harms children. Denying children recess, play time, the arts, library, and physical education, harms children and stunts creativity. Teachers in Seattle are resisting. And we must stand with them. Speak up. BOYCOTT PSSA, NCLB is the real failure, not our kids.