Opting Out in PA

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Update 3/26: Over 350 families have submitted their information to our Opt Outs in PA map!

Update 3/16: Almost 250 families have submitted their plans to opt out to our state-wide map! Check out which schools near you are opting out. If your family plans to opt out this PSSA season, make sure to submit your own info below.

-Would you like to opt your child out of PSSA's? Complete this simple form and give it to your child's principal to start the process. Feel free to share with other parents.

-Not sure of the Opt Out process? This document describes the process of opting out of PSSAs and Keystone exams, and was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment. 

-Opting out can be a scary process- make sure to check out our frequently asked questions page.

-Want to see if anyone else in your area is opting out? Click here to view the map of planned Opt Outs in PA, or take a look below!

Do you plan to opt out? Complete this form and add your child's school to the map!

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Announcing our Opt Out Toolkit

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Solidarity from Chicago: check out the resolution above that the Chicago Teachers Union passed in support of teachers at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences! The opt out movement has strength.

What information can you send on to families who haven't been educated about their opt out rights yet? With parent-teacher conferences just around the corner, check out our brand-new...

Opt Out Organizing Toolkit

Tool Kit Includes:

  • Opt out flyers
  • Informational flyers about opt out
  • Sample press release
  • Press contact list
  • Sample PSSA & Keystone problems for Test-Ins

Remember -- all of these tools are legal, and schools are required by law to provide their families with information on how to opt out.

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"More Teaching, Less Testing!": Ways to Support Feltonville #OptOut Families and Teachers

Do you believe in limiting high-stakes testing's influence on our classrooms and communities? Even if you're not in the position to opt-out at your school, you can support the families and teachers at Feltonville- and help build a movement!

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1. This is a growing movement led by individual parents and teachers who are tired of how over-testing negatively effects students and keeps precious resources from going to schools that need them.

It all starts with simple, individual conversations with your colleagues and families about their experiences with testing, and their visions for more pedagogically and culturally-relevant assessments. Check out some of the many news articles on Feltonville and use one to start a conversation.

2. Sign and share the petition to support Philadlephia Parents' Right to Opt Out! As of this posting we're at almost 700 signatures; help us get to 1,000 this week!

3. Inform yourself! The Philadelphia Educator Law Center has created this fact-sheet on opting out in PA, and APPS Philly has this handy opt out form-letter and guide. Remember that in PA, we don't encourage students to opt out during years (3rd and 7th) that might affect middle- and high-school admissions.

3. Tweet and email your support of Philly's parents to Superintendent Hite and SRC Chairman Bill Green:

Sample Tweets: 

I am a #phled ____ [parent, teacher, student, supporter] and I stand with #optout students & parents at Feltonville! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite #optoutPHL

I urge @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite to request testing waiver from state! Stop attack of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers #OptOut

Inform parents of #optout rights! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite  Stop intimidation of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers!

4. Let the world know why you support assessments that help our students and children grow and learn! Post/tweet your own #WhyOptOut ideas.

5. Write a Support Statement, or take a "solidarity selfie" with your family, community, and colleagues! Post them widely, but please also email Feltonville Teacher kelleycollings@gmail.com so she can share your messages and photos with the school. Check out some of the many organizations and individual support letters here.

6. Are you in Philly? Join Feltonville Teachers and Families for an Opt Out Workshop on Thursday, February 5th on how you can build momentum to opt out at your school! 

7. What's your idea? Let us know! This movement will be built by the little actions of millions of families and educators!

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Feltonville Teachers Attacked by District

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PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT TAKES DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST TEACHERS FOR INFORMING PARENTS OF THEIR OPT OUT RIGHTS AROUND HIGH STAKES TESTING

Parents at Feltonville and across the district stand in support of teachers

Dissatisfied with how standardized testing is eclipsing their children’s education, 20% of parents at  Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences -- with the support of teachers -- have opted their children out of standardized testing. And that number is growing despite disciplinary actions taken last week against teachers involved in informing parents of their rights.

Teachers were issued letters compelling them to attend investigatory conferences on Thursday of this week.  The district move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of  Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. News of the action prompted Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell to issue a public statement of support for Feltonville families on Thursday saying “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville. We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quinones-Sanchez, Squilla, and Blackwell called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.

“We, as parents, have a right to say no to the test”, says Heidey Contrera, the mother of 8th grader Natalie Contrera, who, having moved to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic in 2011, is designated an English Language Learner at Feltonville. “The test is not a good measure of my daughter’s ability. It is not a fair way to judge her. And we’re not taking it.”

“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups to come out publicly in support of parents and teachers at Feltonville. “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.”

 

 News and Support:

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City Council Supports Opting Out

City Council Members Express Support for Families ‘Opting Out’ of Standardized Testing in Feltonville

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), Councilman Mark Squilla (1st District), and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (3rd District) expressed support today for families who have chosen to ‘opt out’ of standardized testing. “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez. “We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children,” said Councilman Squilla.

Parents of 17% of students enrolled in the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have decided their children will not participate in standardized testing this year, according to reporting today by Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir.

Use of standardized testing has dramatically increased in recent years, taking up an increasing amount of school learning time, and interfering with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas of critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Tests such as the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assesment) are now used for ‘high-stakes’ decisions about the future of individual students, their teachers, and their entire schools. Pennsylvania is planning to implement additional new Keystone Exams as a high school graduation requirement as of 2017.

Feltonville Arts and Sciences, a public middle school, has a significant rate of students who are “English Language Learners” (ELL), who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) due to disability or special needs, and who are impacted by trauma. Children report stress, anxiety, and even physical illness caused by this high-stakes testing. “Over-reliance on standardized testing disproportionately harms our most vulnerable students,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez.

Philadelphia City Council adopted Resolution #140997 on December 11, 2014, calling on the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quiñones-Sánchez, Squilla, and Blackwell call upon the School Reform Comission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform our use of standardized testing.

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Call City Council: Support the Standardized Testing Resolution!

Councilman Squilla, Councilwoman Sanchez, and Councilwoman Blackwell have introduced a resolution to City Council calling on the School District to scale back its standardized testing.

The resolution will be introduced for a vote during the week of December 8th. Please take five minutes to call your councilperson -- or an at-large representative -- to let them know that you want them to vote YES on this resolution!

Think about all of the days your students give up on these exams. Five minutes of advocacy is worth it.

Resolution

Calling upon the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.

WHEREAS, Standardized testing has dramatically increased since 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act imposed federal mandates requiring the testing of every student in reading and math from 3rd grade to 8th grade and again in high school, implemented in Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests; and

WHEREAS, In addition to federally-required tests, states have layered on additional assessments, including in Pennsylvania new requirements for Keystone Exams that will be required for high school graduation as of 2017; and

WHEREAS, On average, students in large urban school districts take a total of 113 standardized tests between Pre-Kindergarten and 12th Grade, with students in 11th grade forced to devote as many as 27 days or 15% of the school year to testing and yet many more hours to test preparation; and

WHEREAS, Since 2002 spending on standardized tests has skyrocketed, with the Keystone Exams projected to cost hundreds of millions even billions, without the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania providing any corresponding or dedicated funding to local districts for these costs or for the necessary supplemental education to help struggling students; and

WHEREAS, The over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing interferes with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas such as problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking, thus undermining skills needed to excel outside of the classroom; and

WHEREAS, There are indications that this increase in testing is causing children to experience stress, anxiety, and even in some cases even physical illness; and

WHEREAS, Minority and low-income students, special-needs students including those impacted by trauma and those with Individual Education Plans, as well as students who do not speak English as their first language, are disproportionately harmed by the overuse of standardized tests, particularly when those tests are used to determine ranking, admission, and graduation of students or to evaluate teachers and school staff as well as overall school performance; and

WHEREAS, the City of Pittsburgh engaged in a thoughtful process to evaluate how to minimize and mitigate the use of testing, and has adopted a plan that will cut over 33 hours of annual testing for students in certain grades; and

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania law provides the opportunity for local districts to request waiver of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement and seek approval of alternative assessment strategies; and

WHEREAS, Philadelphia’s ongoing and serious budget crisis as well as its high concentrations of minority, low-income, special-needs, and Limited-English Proficient students, justify the critical examination of state-mandated testing as applied to Philadelphia students and the development of a more streamlined, demographically-appropriate, and cost-effective testing structure for the Philadelphia School District; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA respectfully calls upon the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that an engrossed copy of this resolution be sent to William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, and the members of the School Reform Commission.

Councilman Mark Squilla

Councilman – 1st District

Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez      Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

Councilwoman – 7th District Councilwoman – 3rd District

 

 

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City Council Testimony: Tiffany Bhavnani

On Wednesday, December 19th, many educators from around Philadelphia gave testimony to City Council in opposition to the overwhelming number of standardized tests that are administered in Philadelphia. Here is the spoken and written testimony of one such teacher.

Dear Honorable Councilwoman Blackwell:

I am one of the most privileged teachers in the School District of Philadelphia, because I am an ESOL teacher at Furness High School. I work with intelligent, creative, and enthusiastic students whose native language is not English in a neighborhood school whose student population includes a great deal of political refugees, unaccompanied and undocumented minors, immigrants from over 20 countries, students with IEPs and some students who arrived only after they were ejected from Catholic, private, charter, or special admit schools, but for whom our doors are always open. English language learners account for 57% of Furness High School’s current student population of 682 students. Even our Principal is a former Furness ESOL student and refugee from Cambodia, and his ESOL teacher at the time is still teaching at our school.

Do you know the percentage of English Language Learners at Central? 1% of their 2300+ student population. Masterman 0%, CAPA – 1%, Engineering & Science – 3%, Science Leadership – 3%. Why do you think ELL students are virtually absent from the city’s academically selective high schools and charters? Because English language proficiency has a profound impact on standardized testing. The elite public schools and charters do everything possible to keep or improve their test scores, unfortunately the major indicator of a school’s success. This means ESOL students are excluded from their esteemed populations to ensure high test scores.

The widely researched and accepted facts show that it takes a minimum of 5-7 years for a student to gain academic English, IF they are literate in their first language, AND they have content knowledge from their native education, which is far from the case with many of our ELLs in Philadelphia. Yet, these same students are expected to become “native-level” proficient in English after one, two or three years of ESOL and content area coursework in Philadelphia schools. It is utterly inappropriate academically, and is a practice that repeatedly makes our students feel deficient and defeated, despite obvious gains on the ACCESS test which IS designed for their assessment.

 Put yourself in their positions for just a moment, a Philadelphia legislator for one school year in a country vastly different from anything you’ve ever known. You have no family with you, or maybe one sibling, like many of my students. The food and water don’t agree with you and you have skin problems, and an upset stomach, and the lunch you’re served every day, you have to force down. The environment is hostile, especially when you’re coming from one extreme climate and going to another, maybe from a village to a crime-ridden city. Your whole support network of friends and neighbors that you relied on before, now consists of strangers who shout at you when you don’t understand them or respond as they expect you to. You spend 7 hours a day in classes in a foreign tongue, with a different form of writing and you don’t know how to write a single word. Imagine, every time anyone in your household has to communicate in this

new language it is your responsibility, for the bills, at the doctors, shopping, when school calls for a younger sibling. Then, midway through your school year, you will be given standardized tests in language proficiency, math and science. Do you think that you, an educated professional, literate in your first language, could pass any of the assessments at a high school level in your “new” language? Now, imagine each of those advantages you have as an American professional disappearing, and you are one of my students.

Common sense tells you that second language students don’t have a fighting chance to score “proficient” on standardized tests developed and “normed” on native English-speaking test populations. Even their English-speaking educated peers struggle to perform at a proficient level, in a district devoid of support for the learning needs of our students, many of whom live below the poverty level.

English language proficiency has a profound effect on assessment and its outcomes. These tests are not appropriate for our English language learners. They do not adequately assess their progress in learning—not only the English language, but in grade-level content. These assessments are not an accurate measure of their true achievement.

My students remain in school and continue their education despite the many academic, cultural and economic challenges they face on a daily basis. And what do we do to them? We force them to take test after test that they are not ready or able to succeed at. We make them cry in frustration to comply with mandates. We ask them to reach a proficient level on standardized tests even though they have not acquired the English language proficiency needed to meaningfully interact with the tests’ content. Then these test scores are used to label our school “low performing” even though they are attending one of the best schools for English language learners in the state.

If you were able to visit our school, and I personally invite you to do so, you would see students of all nationalities, religions, and political persuasions with rich and varied histories collaborating as they navigate a new world together. You will see them volunteering thousands of service hours with BuildOn. You will see them apply to, get accepted by and receive scholarships at quality universities all over the state. You will see ESOL students working with Americans in AP classes after only a few years here. You will see students sharing their culture, their lives, their academic endeavors with each other and their teachers. You will see the true meaning of proficiency, success, academic achievement and social responsibility. You will see a high performing school. The Keystone test will never show you any of this.

No, the Keystone will show you how our school failed. Our students are below basic. The teachers are unsatisfactory. A test which robs our students of weeks of instructional time as we complete 12 days of testing, without factoring in Benchmarks that we will also administer this year. All at the cost of millions of dollars, fully knowing that the students will not be proficient by this irrelevant test. The state of Pennsylvania will spend $58.3 million this school year alone on PSSAs and Keystone exams. Just think what that money could do to truly educate these young people.

 So, who wants to go to Fuzhou, China next fall for a reality check about standardized testing? Any volunteers? I am sure the Inquirer and Notebook would love to publish your scores. I wonder how many Chinese characters you could learn by March.

Sincerely,

Tiffany Bhavnani, ESOL Teacher

Horace Howard Furness High School

School District of Philadelphia

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Wednesday: Opt-Out Hearing at City Council

On Wednesday, November 19th, several caucus members will be participating in the Opt-Out hearing at City Council. Below is the testimony from a few of them.

Please show your support for their work by attending the event at City Hall at 3PM -- Room 400 Council Chambers. Teachers are encouraged to come after work, as the testimony is expected to go until 5PM. You can RSVP on their Facebook Event Page.

Parent Alison McDowell:

I resent the significant quantities of time and money that are being spent on standardized testing. These tests are impeding our teachers’ ability to instruct our students.  Our children are not standardized, and heaven knows the resources we put into public schools do not meet any standard of equity across districts. I trust my child’s teachers. I do not trust Pearson, nor do I trust billionaires like Bill Gates seeking to implement Common Core and its associated testing regimen.  Education should be joyful. It should celebrate the talents of our children and lift them up. We should not try to force children into the same mold. It hurts them, and in the long run it hurts our society.

Even though my child tests well, I can see that this system is broken. Her father and I will not have her scores used as a weapon against children who are more vulnerable than she-those who do not have her advantages. We are refusing the PSSAs for her this year and by doing so we will give her several weeks of time to pursue an independent research project of her choosing. By refusing, we are making a statement that we recognize this corrupt system pits child against child; school against school; and teacher against teacher.  Put simply, toxic testing is not a productive use of our limited educational resources.

 

District Teacher Amy Roat:

Every winter, ESOL students across the country are subjected to taking the ACCESS Test, created by the WIDA Consortium.  This company does not release data about the tests reliability or validity. WIDA does not permit outside psychometricians, from a university, for example, to examine the test questions or  the actual student results. Yet, WIDA hails itself as the gold standard for measuring what English Language Learners know and can produce.

For over 100 years, it has been a scientific standard that for a theory to be proven accurate or true, it must be able to be replicated by other scientists. Private companies, under the guise of corporate  proprietary knowledge, refuse to release the data or let experts analyze their data. It is defies logic that  we would judge students, teachers, schools and districts based on dubious tests.

Parent and District Teacher Beth Menasion:

The PSSA’s in high school have been replaced with the Keystone exams, which are now a graduation requirement starting with the class of 2017.  Last Spring, I watched a student on the autistic spectrum sit and struggle with one module of his Biology Keystone for (I kid you not!) 8 hours straight.  He wanted so badly to do well.   While he agonized over every answer, he would not admit defeat.  The rules of the assessment forbid me from taking the test from a student in situations like these.  He sat through his lunch, struggling with this test because he knew that if he didn’t pass, he would have to take it again.  

I also have a student with a math based learning disability who works extremely hard in math, but did not pass the Algebra Keystone last year.  Disappointed in herself, she wanted to see the test and find out which problems she got wrong so that she knows what she must work on for next time.  Sadly, students and teachers are prohibited from seeing the exact results of each item on these tests.  The rules also say that in the testing rooms and hallways, walls must be devoid of all words and pictures, meaning that teachers must either take down or cover up any student work that is displayed as well as any artwork or even inspirational quotes.  Due to the frequency of standardized testing, many teachers on our testing floor no longer see the point of displaying anything anymore.   Blank walls.

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An Opt-Out Letter to Unite Parents and Teachers

Opt-Out Philly has written a beautiful letter for parents that want to refuse Pennsylvania's standardized testing regime this year.

Opting out is a very personal decision every family has to make. However, this letter makes it clear that parents and teachers need to find ways to work together against the "damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended." 

If you’d like to learn more about opting-out your own children, or how to talk to parents who might be interested, please contact optoutphilly@gmail.com. Read more about Opt-Out Philly's organizing work so far in this great Inquirer profile.

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Dear (school principal),

We, the parents of (child’s name), an (?) grade student enrolled at (school name), are writing to state that standardized testing is against our religious and philosophical beliefs. We will be refusing all standardized testing for (child’s name) during the upcoming school year.

Our refusal includes, but is not limited to, the English, math, science, and writing PSSAs; benchmark testing; CDT (Classroom Diagnostic Tools) testing; any tests associated with PVAAS teacher evaluations; NAEP testing; as well as field testing of standardized test items.

We realize that we may be required to come in and review the testing materials and reconfirm our decision to refuse the tests. In that event, we request that you contact us at least two weeks prior to their scheduled administration so that we may set a time to do the review and complete that process. We can be reached at the phone number and emails provided above. During times in which standardized tests are being administered or standardized test preparation exercises are taking place, please allow (child’s name) to pursue alternate educational activities such as independent reading, a research project, or volunteering in the library.

I hope you understand that it is not our intent to harm (school name) or its staff. We hold the school and its teachers in high regard, and for that reason we are taking a stand against damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended. Such purposes include: rating teachers, closing or turning schools over to private management, and withholding diplomas from students who have otherwise earned them. High-stakes standardized tests also pose significant problems for students not fluent in English and those with individualized education plans.

We believe in a broad curriculum that supports the individual needs of children and helps them develop their talents to become critical thinkers and contributors to a more just and democratic society. It is incomprehensible to us that during times of such austerity, when schools cannot even afford current textbooks, Philadelphia’s students are being ranked and sorted against children in affluent districts who have every advantage. It is a broken and corrupt system, and our conscience will not permit us to have our child be a part of it any longer.

Please let us know if we need to be in touch with her teachers individually, or if that is something you will do in your capacity as principal. We would appreciate it if you could provide a written confirmation that you have received this letter. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Parent Names

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