Great news! This Friday (4/10), a directive was sent to Philadelphia testing coordinators stating that any student with a letter from their parent will be able to opt out of the PSSA-- regardless of whether they've reviewed the test.
This means ANYONE can opt out of the test still*. Here's how:
Submit the following letter in writing (hand-written is fine), changing the names to suit your child and school.
To: _______________________ (principal's name)
From: _____________________ (parent/guardian's name)
Re: PSSA Test Refusal
As parent/guardian of _________________ (student's name) who is currently enrolled at ____________________ (school name) in the Philadelphia School District, I have serious concerns regarding the overuse and misuse of high-stakes standardized testing and its negative impact on the education my child is receiving. Therefore, my child ______________________ (student name) is under my directive as his/her parent NOT to take any PSSA assessment this school year.
I am writing to state that you must respect my legal parental rights. Do not place my child into the testing environment and do not present him/her with an assessment. My child will be considered to have refused the assessment, and you shall code his/her test as "other" as specified on page 9 of the PSSA Testing Coordinator's Handbook.
If my child has begun the PSSA, it is my wish that they complete that initial section, and that my refusal apply to all remaining sections of the PSSA not yet started. All remaining sections of the assessment shall be marked "other" for my child.
_______________________ (parental signature)
cc: Superintendent Hite (email@example.com)
* Please note if your child has begun a section of the PSSA (for example reading, which is the first section), you are not able to opt them out of that section. You are, however, able to opt them out of the next sections (for example math and science).
Here is the directive that was sent to all testing coordinators in the School District of Philadelphia on Friday afternoon:
Every student that has submitted a written opt-out request for religious OR non-religious reasons is excused from the test.If the parent put in a religious request for exemption and reviewed the test, testing coordinators have been instructed to mark the religious exemption bubble.
If the parent put in a non-religious request or if they didn't review the test, testing coordinators are to to mark the "other" bubble.
And if you're still not sure about opting out, parent and opt-out advocate Tonya Bah (pictured below) offers this advice:
Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”
(Above: Parent Tonya Bah educates families near Broad and Olney; Below: Parent Shakeda Gaines shows off her new Opt Out car decorations.)
Early next week, the School District of Philadelphia will publish its vacancy list of available positions for the 2015-2016 School year. All vacancies will be filled by the site-selection process. Does your school have its Staff Selection Committee ready to go? Do you know how the teacher members of the committee were chosen? Do you know what procedures the committee must follow for interviews and hiring?
All these issues are addressed in the School District’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
For some frequently asked questions and the answers, please see the following:
1. Who can be on the staff selection committee at my school?
In elementary and middle schools the committee has five members—three teachers from the school, a parent from the school, and the principal. In high schools the committee has six members— three teachers from the school, a parent from the school, a student, and the principal.
2. Who chooses the teacher, parent, and student members and how are they chosen?
If your school has a School Council, that council chooses the teachers for the committee. IF your school DOES NOT have this council, the PFT Building Committee in conjunction with the principal chooses the teacher members. The Home & School Association (HSA) chooses the parent member, and the principal chooses the student member (in high schools).
***Principals should ask the staff who is interested in serving on the committee, and then have the SAC or Building Committee choose from the interested teachers. Teachers volunteer for this, there is no renumeration.
3. How are interviews conducted?
ALL candidates for positions in the school must be interviewed by the same committee and asked the same set of questions. The Principal, in consultation with the Staff Selection Committee, shall establish appropriate, objective criteria and procedures to identify candidates for filling vacancies.
4. What if the principal and the committee cannot agree on whom to hire?
In the event that the Committee fails to reach consensus, the Principal shall make the selection from among the three (3) most qualified applicants as ranked by the staff selection committee.
All these procedures are delineated in the PFT Contract (pages 72-73):
Rules and procedures for establishing and running a School Advisory Council (SAC):
"As we learned that these idealistic and dedicated young people were teachers they became part of our family as well."
This Friday, parents of the 43 teaching students who were forcibly disappeared in Mexico last year will be visiting Philadelphia for an event hosted by La Casa Latina @ UPenn.
Working Educators is proud to welcome these brave parents to our city, and founding WE member Tatiana Olmedo explains why this event will be important and powerful:
In late September 2014 we learned that 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa had disappeared in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. These student teachers clashed with local authorities and were taken into custody and never heard from again. These student teachers came from the communities in rural Mexico that endure extreme poverty and where people live in precarious conditions. The Teachers Schools they attend were established to give the young people of these areas an opportunity to create a better society and continue to give back to their communities. Their teachers’ training is rooted in social justice and working to educate people about their rights and demanding a true democracy in Mexico.
As the world learned of this tragedy we grieved with the families. As we learned that these idealistic and dedicated young people were teachers they became part of our family as well. Their struggle for justice and democracy is similar to our struggle for our public schools, our communities and our own democracy. Meeting parents of these young heroes and listening to their accounts of their fight with the Mexican government for justice is a great opportunity and a chance to connect the dots in relation to the neoliberal reform movement and its place within public education.
Please join us on Friday, 4/10 at 4:30pm at Penn's Towne Heilmeier Hall Room 100 (220 South 33rd St.). Click here for more info and to RSVP.
The Caravana 43 families will be speaking at a number of other events in Philly, which you can find out about here.
(Translation: "They tried to bury us, but they didn't know that we were seeds")
Earlier this month, this official Opt Out protocol was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment.
The Notebook has also covered the district's new distribution of Opt Out info.
If you encounter school administrators who are are NOT following this protocol, immediately send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can work to resolve the issue. No one should feel bullied or intimidated for exercising their legal right to review and opt out of these assessments on religious grounds.
(Want to see who else is opting out in your area? Over 350 families have already put themselves on the Opt Outs in PA Map!)
Parental Request to View the PSSA/Keystone Assessments – District Protocol
Online Testing Sites
Schools testing online ONLY, must call DRC (1-800-451-7849) to request a paper copy of the tests to be used ONLY for parental review, if necessary.
Paper & Pencil Testing Sites
1. If a parent contacts the school with a request to view the PSSA/Keystone test.
b. Provide this opportunity at a mutually convenient date/time no earlier than two weeks prior to the start of the testing window.
ii. PSSA review start: Wednesday, March 25
iii. Keystone review start: Wednesday, April 29
c. Also, notify the parent of the location inside the school where this will take place
2. Make a copy of the Parent Confidentiality Agreement (Appendix of F of the Assessment Handbook)
d. The parent MUST sign this before viewing the test
e. Translations of this document also are available in the 8 dominant languages. Non-English speaking parents are allowed to bring an interpreter with them while viewing the test
f. BOTH the parent and the interpreter MUST sign the Confidentiality Agreement prior to viewing the test/s
g. The Test Coordinator or designee must collect all Confidentiality Agreements and keep them on file at the school.
3. The Test Coordinator or designee can break the shrink wrap and pull out any one formof the test booklet for the subject and provide it to the parent
4. The Test coordinator or designee MUST be present in the room throughout the time the parent is viewing the test booklet
b. The test booklets should not be in the possession of the parent without the presence of a designated/responsible school staff
a. Parents cannot take notes or communicate with others during the viewing and should not possess their cell phones during this time
b. Test booklets for more than one subject can be viewed in one session. Many parents can view the test booklets in one viewing session
c. The Test Coordinator or designee will collect the test booklet/s back from the parent/s after they have viewed it/them and lock the booklets back in the secure storage area
5. After viewing the test booklet/s, if a parent finds anything against his/her religious beliefs in the test content and decides to opt his/her child out of testing, he/she must write a letter (or send an e-mail) to the superintendent (email@example.com) requesting that his/her child opt-out of the PSSA/Keystone testing. It is recommended that the principal be copied on the e-mail
6. On the day/s of testing, the school must provide alternative instructional activities for students who opted out
Download a PDF version of this Opt Out Protocol here.
Want to learn more about how to Opt Out in PA?: Check our our Guide to Opting Out in PA and Frequently Asked Questions for more info.
If you'd like more information about how to opt out of the PSSA, or would like to see which schools in your area have families opting out already, take a look at our guide to Opting Out in PA.
1. Do I need to explain my religious beliefs with specific questions from the PSSA test on my opt out letter?
No. A parent simply states "because of religious beliefs."
Once a parent reviews the PSSA, this is all that needs to be included in the letter:
On [Date] I had the opportunity to review the PSSA test and pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(4) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [Name] excused from PSSA testing because of religious beliefs.
However, this false
statement, and other similar false
statements have been given to parents from their school districts:
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has made it clear that any objection to the testing materials for religious reasons must be specific in nature, must note the specific question or questions that are objectionable and the specific, religious reason for your objection. Please note a general statement of religious objection does not meet the intention of this review and will not be considered for possible exemption.
2. My child is opted out of the PSSA testing, what will they do while their classmates are taking the PSSA's?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on page 9 of the PSSA Handbook
If the student is excused from the assessment due to parental or guardian request, school personnel must provide an alternative learning environment for the student during the assessment and select “Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment."
3. When can I schedule to review the PSSA? My school district has offered limited hours which makes it difficult for me to schedule a time to review.
From page 9 of the 2015 PSSA Handbook for Assessment Coordinators
Districts must provide a convenient time for the review. This may include an evening review time, if requested.
4. For more information about the Opt-Out Protocol: Parental request to view the PSSA and Keystone Exams-District Protocol
This document describes the process of opting out of PSSAs and Keystone exams. It was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment. If you encounter school administrators who are are NOT following this protocol, immediately send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can work to resolve the issue. No one should feel bullied or intimidated for exercising their legal right to review and opt out of these assessments on religious grounds.
What other questions do you have about Opting Out? Let us know on facebook, twitter or at email@example.com!
Reposted from Opt Out Pennsylvania Blog.
Working Educators is a group of educators, parents, and communities working to take defense of public education into our own hands. We know what our schools need, and we have the power to stand up for our schools by influencing the upcoming May primary elections for Mayor, City Council, and Judicial seats.
Whether you're new to the political world or an experienced campaigner, we need you! We're hoping to have vocal educators and allies at EVERY candidate forum happening over the next few months.
Not sure what to say? Don't worry! Below you will find a script our Political Committee has put together that will make every candidate aware of our power. And there are printable copies for all of your friends, too.
You will find a list below of all the forums. Please sign-up for which forum you plan on attending, so that we can make sure all forums are covered and be in touch about strategy.
Sign up here to let us know which forums you plan on attending.
Want to get more involved in WE's political work to stand up for public education this election? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more ways to get involved.
(WE members pose with Council Candidates Helen Gym and Kristin Combs at a WE Happy Hour)
1) Political Script for Caucus Members
STEP #1: Look up your ward and division for both your home and your school: https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/Pages/PollingPlaceInfo.aspx
And your ward leader: http://www.seventy.org/tools/ward-leaders-committeepeople/democratic-party
STEP #2: Fill out your intro script for your questions:
Hi my name is _______________________ and I am a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, a rank-and-file caucus within the PFT. I am a registered voter in the __________ Ward, _________ Division. My Ward leader is ________________________. If you are an educator: I also teach at _______________________ , which is in the ___________ Ward, ___________ Division.
STEP #3: Ask away!
Lack of funding from Harrisburg is a perpetual issue for the district. As the mayor/councilperson, however, you have the power to raise revenues from within Philadelphia itself. How would you go about this? (Follow up with questions about the 10 year tax abatement, PILOT payments from universities, raising the Use and Occupancy tax, Comcast tax breaks, etc.)
As you are most likely aware, many teachers – especially younger ones – haven’t been given their contractual step raises for nearly 3 years now. How would you help solve the contract impasse between the PFT and the District? How would you help to retain talented teachers within the district? (Follow up with a personal example of how much you have already sacrificed out of your salary.)
City council recently passed a resolution unanimously asking for the SRC to examine its use of standardized tests. What role do you believe standardized tests have in measuring the growth of a student? In measuring the effectiveness of a teacher? (This question should be able to tell you how familiar a candidate is with the Opt Out movement. If they aren’t familiar with it, follow up!)
2) Candidate Forums Calendar & Primary Election Timeline
Click here to sign up here to attend a forum (or more than one!). We’ll send a reminder!
- Saturday, 3/7 - Working Families Candidate Forum // 10 AM -2 PM // Arch St. United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad Street
- Tuesday, 3/10 - Philly ADA Mayoral Forum // 7 - 9 PM // The Friend’s Center (1501 Cherry St. - MLK Room)
March 10 Last day to circulate and file nomination petitions
March 11 First day to circulate and file nomination papers
- Wednesday, 3/18 - PFT District City Council Candidates (Members only) // 4:15 PM // Sheet Metal Workers' Union Hall, 1301 South Columbus Blvd
- Wednesday, 3/18 - Food Policy Mayoral Forum // 7 PM // Free Library Skyline Room, 1901 Vine St.
- Thursday, 3/19 - Bicycle Coalition Better Mobility Forum // 6 PM // Friends Center (1501 Cherry St)
- Monday, 3/23 - PFT City Council At-Large Candidates Forum (Members Only) // 4:15 PM // Sheet Metal Workers' Union Hall, 1301 South Columbus Blvd
- Tuesday, 3/24 - Mayoral Candidates Education Forum (Questions sent in advance) // 6:30 PM // G.W. Childs School, 1599 Wharton St.
March 25 Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions
- Monday, 3/30 - - In Conversation with Philadelphia: Al Dia News Mayoral Forum // 5 - 8 PM // 30 S. 15th St., 15th Floor
- Monday, 4/20 - Philly Tech Week Mayoral Forum // 6 PM // Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St.
- Wednesday, 4/22 - Northern Liberties Mayoral Forum // 7 PM // 841 N. American St.
April 20 Last day for voters to REGISTER before the primary
May 19 MUNICIPAL PRIMARY!
Click here to download both of these flyers in a printable and shareable format.
Don't forget to sign up to attend a political forum, so that we can keep in touch!
(WE Political Committee members Luigi Borda and George Bezanis talk public education with Mayoral Candidate Jim Kenney at a WE Happy Hour)
On Thursday, February 19th, History Teacher George Bezanis accepted an award for his work with the Central High School debate team.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC,
I appeared in front of you earlier in this meeting as a teacher, Debate Coach and Site Organizer for the entire A.S.A.P. League matches at Central High School. I posed for a photograph and accepted your award.
I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committee person in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…
Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…
Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools!”
Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district…
Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone…
Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge!
And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later.
Do you know how much my pay cut was last year? I didn’t get paid for running the Debate program, but continued to do so (free of charge) because I had to look my students in the eyes – not you. As we approach yet another September without a contract, my total lost step and degree wages are now approaching $15,000.
Meanwhile, this body votes in new charters it can’t afford, continues to hire 6-figure employees, extend contracts to Teach For America, and refuses to lobby for PILOT payments, abatement reform, or “interest rate swap” renegotiation.
Instead, you say that the PFT needs to give back. Don’t pretend to thank teachers like myself by giving them awards at the beginning of an SRC meeting, and then secretly voting to take away my contract.
If you really want to thank teachers like me, forget the cheap photo-op and
Get back to the negotiating table!
Give us a fair contract!
Then, hopefully, you can
Vote to dissolve this sham of a school board!
As Philadelphia educators, parents, and community members, we know the kind of schools every student in the city deserves.
Tomorrow the School Reform Commission will vote on the 39 applications for new Charter Schools. Working Educators will be there throughout the meeting to say "We Can't Afford More Charter Schools".
We are not alone. At the meeting tomorrow we will be joining allies from PCAPS, Action United, Parents United for Public Education, Youth United for Change, and more.
Furthermore, every Mayoral candidate has signed on to a letter saying "No New Charters" (except Anthony Williams, of course), as well as City Council President Darrel Clarke, Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., many City Council candidates, and other community organizations.
We know what our schools need. In letter after letter written to the SRC opposing these new charters, WE members expressed the beautiful communities that exist in our public schools, despite an already dire financial situation. As one educator remarks:
For me, the Richmond School is an upbeat example of what a neighborhood school can be. It has strong roots in the community. It serves as common ground for students and staff of different racial groups, ethnic groups and cultural traditions, a building where we can come together in a calm and nurturing place. Generations of families have been welcome here. The stable, experienced staff is lively, vibrant, capable. Classrooms are focused on learning. I go every morning to the Richmond School because it makes me feel good about my city and hopeful about American democracy and American opportunity.
Please join us tomorrow to show the city of Philadelphia that educators, parents, and community members stand together in support of the public schools our students deserve. Sign up here and invite your friends on facebook.
We will be distributing these flyers to fill out and make sure everyone knows that teachers and families are the real experts. Grab some from a WE member tomorrow, or print your own!
Some notes for attending tomorrow:
- The full meeting will be long (probably 4 hours!), but it's essential we stay through to the vote at the end so the SRC knows educators are organized and watching. It's ok if you get there a little late.
- Last SRC meeting, they didn't allow signs into the building at all. If you make a poster, put it on paper that you can fold up and fit in your bag.
- WE is a member-driven union, which means our ideas come from the membership. The above posters were made by two members. What's your idea for how to make this 4 hour meeting fun and powerful? Want to use your PD to host a poster-making party? Bring balloons? Choreograph a "no new charters" dance? Do it!
For more information on the charter threat, and community-led alternatives, check out this informational flyer from PCAPS.