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Opt Out, Opt In

If your NYC child is in grades 3 and up, they are probably taking State tests this week. We all remember those. Filling in little bubbles with number two pencils. Reading passages that are about subjects you would never choose to read on your own. Forcing yourself to remember terms like main idea and pivotal point.

This year the reading test is untimed and split over three days. That means kids can take as long as they need to to finish each section. For my child, it meant she finished pretty early and then sat and read the book she had brought from home. She says she was reading it for quite awhile. So long that it prompted an email from me to her principal in which I volunteered to come in today and help out. Can the kids go outside when they finish? Can they go in another room? Can they do anything else other than be forced to sit there and read a book after completing a reading test? I would be happy to supervise them.

Not surprisingly, the answer was no, not really. It would cause too much noise and disruption to have kids moving from place to place. She did say that she would look into how many kids were finishing early and see if there was anything else for them to do.

So today I sent my child to school with the same book. At least it is one she likes. She will probably finish the whole thing by tomorrow. I also cancelled her afterschool chess class so she could come out of school and go right to the playground. 

You do what you can.

My child actually does not have to take these tests. Many NYC parents have chosen to "Opt Out" of them altogether. They sent a note to their child's principal stating this choice and requesting that their child be sent somewhere else during testing. Parents have the right to do this, and in fact, many of them should. These State tests are particularly unfair for kids who have been identified with learning disabilities and have IEPs. They are especially hard for children for whom English is not their first language. Parents of these children are certainly justified in opting out. And I respect them for making that decision. Unfortunately, I am not always respected for mine. 

I got the same information those parents did. But I chose to have my child take the State tests this year because I know it will not be a big deal for her. She will not take 6 hours to complete it and it will not be super stressful. I am very lucky that this is true. Other parents can not say the same.  And although I do not necessarily believe schools should be evaluated based on testing,  it is the current reality, it is what we have right now. When Maya's principal took over the school a few years ago, it was a struggling place with abysmal test scores. When I signed her up for pre-k these low scores were a definite concern for me. 

I have since learned that sadly most State test results are more a measure of poverty level then anything to do with the school's ability to teach. Is this wrong? Of course! Is is unfair that kids from more educated, more affluent families score higher on tests? Of course! Do we need to provide more opportunities for lower income kids to succeed? Yes, yes, yes! The system is broken. But that is not the fault of Maya's principal. She is just doing her job, trying to make a bad school, better.

The Opt Out advocates would seize the story of my child reading her book as proof positive that everyone should refuse these tests. If the test weren't so long, my child wouldn't have to sit there. If the test weren't so poorly designed, my child wouldn't have to sit there. The system is wrong and we should all fight it!

All that may be true but I still sent her off to school this morning with a "good luck on your test today". And another book. Because no, sitting there reading for an hour is not ideal but whatever, she will survive. Another parent in her class made a different decision, and their child is not testing today. That kid will also survive. These are not life and death issues. Its just a reading test. 

Being a parent is about making choices. Not everything in life is perfect. Not everything is how you want it to be. Some things are hard. Some things are no fun. Some things just plain stink. Deciding when to fight back and when to just suck it up and do it is what life is all about. It is what we have to teach our kids to do. Make choices. Work hard. Fight for what you believe in, or make your best of a crappy situation. Both lessons are important, both skills are necessary.
For those of you who chose to opt your child out of the State tests this week, good for you!

For those of you who chose to have your child take them, good for you!

There is no right choice for everyone. Respect each other. That is the MOST important lesson.


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