A mom shares:
The Opt-Out Phone Call
A Play in One Act
*Curtain rises on scene. Phone rings in principal’s office.*
Principal C: Good afternoon, Mr. C. speaking.
Mrs. Maloney: Hello, Mr. C.! This is Beth Maloney. I got your email asking me to give you a call. Is this a good time?
Principal C: Yes! Of course it is! Thank you so much for calling me. I read the email you sent Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Peters. Thank you for cc’ing me.
Mrs. Maloney: You’re welcome…
Principal C: This year, I’m trying to talk to all the parents who are requesting that their child not take the State Tests personally. I want to make sure they are aware how many changes have been made. There’s a lot of misinformation on social media.
*A moment of silence. Mrs. Maloney lets out a short sigh of exasperation.*
Mrs. Maloney: Yes. I know. I spoke to Sue Smith, the PTA president. She’s been very successful in encouraging parents to have their kids take the tests this year.
Principal C: Yes, she has been a great asset! We are lucky to have such an involved PTA at our school.
Mrs. Maloney: Okay, Mr. C. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I thought the reasons I provided in my email were pretty clear. Not that I need to provide reasons.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, the new Commissioner has listened to parents, and the tests are significantly improved this year. They are shorter, and teachers reviewed each item on the test, and now kids have no time limits. Plus, the tests aren’t going to be used to evaluate teachers, so you don’t have to worry about Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Peters. And, this is the last year Pearson is making the test. The State fired them and hired a new, better company.
*Tone in Mrs. Maloney’s voice sharpens.*
Mrs. Maloney: Mr. C., I am not opting my children out of these tests because I’m worried about their teachers. The teachers can take care of themselves. They have a union. My kids have no one representing them but me.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I didn’t mean to imply that.
Mrs. Maloney: Excuse me, but I am prepared for all of your talking points because I’ve spoken to several parents who have already had this conversation with you. First of all, when pressed for information about who these so-called teachers are who reviewed the test, the Commissioner has been very vague. Pearson regularly hires people with teaching certificates, but that doesn’t mean they actually teach. They just work for the company. Also, this year’s tests are shorter than last year’s on a minuscule level. The Commissioner herself has said several times publicly that they are not much shorter at all.
Principal C: But there are no time limits this year.
Mrs. Maloney: That is absolutely ludicrous. Two years ago, when Paul was in 3rd grade, he came home and told me he worked the entire time each of the 6 days of testing and still left many questions blank. On the last day of the ELA test, he didn’t even have time to start the extended response. Now, the State has released guidelines explaining how to handle test security for kids who test through lunch! My son Paul is exactly the type of kid who would take the test for 5 hours if he could! Why would I want that for him, or for any child? So please explain to me how a lack of time limits is supposed to make me want my child to take these tests.
Principal C: I’m sorry, Mrs. Maloney. That is a very good point.
Mrs. Maloney: And don’t get me started on my daughter Sophie over in the middle school. She and all her friends know that the tests are meaningless. Last year, many of her friends who took the test doodled or drew pictures, and some even wrote letters to the Commissioner thanking him for wasting their time.
Principal C.: I’m disappointed to hear that.
Mrs. Maloney: Well, what does the State think will happen when they’ve come out and said that the tests are meaningless for kids? Now, as for the State firing Pearson, are you aware that the contract the State made with Questar makes it clear that Questar will use the “previous firm’s” questions through 2018?
Principal C: No, I didn’t know that.
Mrs. Maloney: Yes, well thank goodness for all that misinformation on social media. So we can plan on Pearson tests for the next several years, while the State spends hundreds of millions setting up infrastructure for online testing that will likely go over with parents like a lead balloon.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I completely understand your frustration with Pearson. However, I hope you can understand where school leaders like me are coming from. We rely on the data from the state tests to improve the instruction we give the kids.
*Mrs. Maloney laughs out loud.*
Mrs. Maloney: The data you receive from the tests? What data? Can you tell me about it?
Principal C: Well, the test data is important in showing us our strengths and weaknesses, and how we compare to other schools.
Mrs. Maloney: So what are our strengths? What strengths about our school did you learn from last year’s tests?
*Principal C. clears his throat.*
Mrs. Maloney: Mr. C., the tests don’t give any specific feedback. When Paul got a 2 in 3rd grade, he told me he left an entire essay blank. Did you know that? Did his teachers know that?
Principal C.: Well, the data we get is more big picture.
Mrs. Maloney: Mr. C., I’m glad this conversation has headed in this direction. Paul was very nervous about how he did on that test. Imagine my surprise when I emailed his teacher at the time—Mr. Martin—and he told me that even though the tests had been scored in May, there would be no results until August.
Principal C.: Yes, the State does need to work on getting the scores back earlier. They’ve promised a quicker turn around this year.
Mrs. Maloney: Promises mean nothing when we all know political interests dictate where the cut scores will be drawn. That’s why the tests are scored in April and May but no one knows who passed until months later! But back to Paul’s 3rd grade test. When I finally got his score—in September of 4th grade!—I emailed his 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Martin, to see if he had any insight as to why he’d scored a 2. Do you know what Mr. Martin told me? First, he told me he hadn’t read the test—because he had to sign a confidentiality agreement! Then, he told me that even if there hadn’t been a gag order, he never saw Paul, or any of his students during the testing block, or the actual 3rd grade tests whatsoever! Because for security purposes, the district had 3rd and 4th grade teachers proctor 5th and 6th grade students, and visa versa!
*A moment of tense silence.*
Principal C.: That has been a district policy for several years now…
Mrs. Maloney: THEN—and this is really where I completely lost faith in the system—I asked him if he happened to have scored Paul’s test, and he said of course not, because teachers are not allowed to score the grade level they teach. So please, Mr. C., tell me about the valuable data from these tests!
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I’m very sorry, and I can see your mind is made up. You have great reasons for having Paul and Olivia opt out.
Mrs. Maloney: Thank you. But I must say, I’m extremely concerned about the misinformation YOU are spreading, along with Sue Smith and the PTA.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I am trying to make the best decision for the school.
Mrs. Maloney: Really? Mr. C., can you please tell me why Olivia has not had science or social studies at all this year? She is in 3rd grade. My husband and I have been asking her about it all year. When we first asked around Columbus Day, she looked confused. I asked her what her schedule is like at school, and she said first they have ELA block, then math block, then specials, then technology block, and then literacy block. When I asked her teacher about it at parent-teacher conferences, she just sort of sighed and said that social studies is now “embedded” in ELA. Whatever that means! And for Paul, he’s studied the 50 states, and that’s it! Not an ounce more of any social studies content!
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, the third grade teachers are working hard to get the students prepared for College and Careers. And they do have science experiments on Fridays.
Mrs. Maloney: Oh, yes. I’m aware of that. Those were her favorite part of the week. Do you know when the last one was? December. Because now they are doing State Test Review.
*Mr. C. coughs.*
Mrs. Maloney: One more thing, Mr. C. I made it clear at the beginning of this conversation that I am not concerned about teacher evaluations because teachers are adults who can fend for themselves. But please don’t think for an instant that we don’t realize the tests still count. Teachers are still receiving a composite score for these tests, which will be reported to the State and to districts for “advisory purposes,” whatever that means! Even parents can request these scores! Furthermore, the test scores are used to put schools on failure lists.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, no school in our district has ever been on a list. In fact, we regularly score at the top of the county.
Mrs. Maloney: See, that’s another thing that is not understood about those of us in the Opt Out movement. We don’t just care about our kids and our school. We care about ALL kids. It’s wonderful that our school scores so well. But you know what? One of my neighbors teaches in a City elementary school. Do you know how many kids are in her 3rd grade class? 26. Do you know how many are in Olivia’s? 20. She told me her building has one counselor and one librarian that it shares with two other schools in the district. Olivia’s school has a full time librarian, counselor and nurse. My neighbor also told me that three years ago, she had to start teaching downloaded lessons from EngageNY “with fidelity.” Her administrators have told her that the curriculum is required because it is the best way to ensure all kids are prepared for the State Tests. She used to do so many projects and plays, and now she has to implement lessons in which she has no say. She says morale in her building has never been worse. So, you can add another reason to why I’m opting Paul and Olivia out. To stand up for kids in OTHER schools, too, because these tests are sucking the life out of public education.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I don’t really see how opting your children out impacts the kids in other schools, but I’m happy to honor your request…
Mrs. Maloney: Oh, you don’t? Let me explain it. Parents have learned we have one way to get the attention of the State Education Department. And that is by opting our kids out. The State has an agenda that is not in the best interests of our kids. Every child—not just those in affluent suburbs—deserves small class sizes, a rich curriculum, science, social studies, art, music, recess, library time, and teachers who feel valued and inspired so that they can use their creative gift of teaching to make a difference in our kids’ lives. We aren’t going to sit by while Pearson collects hundreds of points of data on each of our children. We’re disgusted by what we read about charter schools, yet our lawmakers keep voting to give them more money. We’ll take care of that in November. Furthermore, we’re appalled that experts in childhood development and curriculum have stated serious concerns about the Common Core Standards, but the so-called leaders in public education march on anyway, not caring that it’s our kids on the front lines.
Principal C: Mrs. Maloney, I am very sorry to have upset you.
Mrs. Maloney: Oh, I’m not upset. I’m enlightened and inspired. In fact, just this morning, I submitted my paperwork and petition to run for the district’s Board of Education. It’s time we had some informed parents representing the district and setting the direction for our schools.
Principal C: Well, that sounds wonderful. We will be lucky to have a parent like you serve.
Mrs. Maloney: Thank you, Mr. C. I’m sure you have plenty to do today, and so do I. Good luck with the tests on Tuesday. I do ask, however, that you please consider what you say to parents who inform you they are opting out. We do communicate, you know.
Principal C: Yes, I will. Thank you.
Mrs. Maloney: You’re welcome. Have a good day! Good bye.
Principal C: Yes, you too. Good bye.