James Kirylo: Why My Son Will Opt Out– Again
The following is a guest post by Dr. James Kirylo, professor of teaching and learning at Southeastern Louisiana University. Kirylo’s research interests include critical pedagogy, curriculum theory, teacher leadership, and literacy development.
His latest book is titled Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, And How We Teach (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
In this guest post, Kirylo confronts the misuse of standardized testing as he refuses for a second time to allow his son to participate in Louisiana’s testing season.
A Redux: Why My Son will Opt Out
James D. Kirylo
Around this time last year I spoke in front of the Board of the Tangipahoa Parish School District (Louisiana) where my son attends one of the district’s schools. At that board meeting in 2015, I made public to opt-out my son from participating in the standardized testing charade. Make no mistake, the way standardized tests are being used to exploit school-age youth, teachers, and schools is not only a political sham, but it is one that undeniably distorts the meaning, place, and purpose of assessment.
This year, I once again went before the Board of the Tangipahoa Parish School District to announce a redux in opting out my son, a fourth grader. There is no need to provide here the reasons of my intention to opt out; one can simply read my remarks from last year in which I explain.
Other than a few particularities (and a new governor in our state, which is a welcome sight), not much has changed from last year to 2016. Things are still much the same regarding how school systems view, emphasize, and message to parents that standardized tests are the be all and end all of their child’s educational experience. In fact, not much has changed since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002, and subsequently when it became common parlance that “high stakes” was attached to testing.
The Network of Public Education (NPE) reminds us that since the passing of NCLB–in which the alleged purpose of federally mandated testing was to reveal the achievement gaps within schools, ostensibly to close them–“…there is no conclusive evidence that NCLB high-stakes testing has improved the academic performance of any student—particularly those who need the most help. All that has been closed by testing are children’s neighborhood schools.”
There you have it—fourteen years later since NCLB was introduced—standardized tests, as they are currently administered, interpreted, and used in school communities across the country, do not work, have not worked, and will not work as they were presumably intended. In fact, the adverse effects of them are overwhelming. Nevertheless, we continue to use them like a bad drug to which the desperate addict keeps crawling back.
And like the addict who is in need of dire help, until there is admittance to the problem, school systems will continue down this addictive path of testing until that type of assessment system is recognized as inherently harmful. Until then, therefore, parents have only one option to not enable the addiction to testing: opt-out.
I applaud the influential NPE call for a national opt out of standardized tests. And to be sure, with thousands of parent activists across the country pushing back on the corporatization of education, the opt-out movement is fearlessly gaining traction. Parents are tired of their children being nonsensically viewed as data; tired of their teachers being coerced to “teaching to the test,” and dismayed with school report cards that irresponsibly “grade” schools largely based on these tests.
With respect to the latter, my two children attend a school that has a state report card grade that has been hovering between a D and C– hardly a glaring narrative. What am I thinking by sending my sons to just a slightly-below-average school– and, by implication, one that is populated by slightly-below average teachers and administrators, only to be surrounded by slightly-below average children? But indeed, that is the warped message corporate reformers want to convey.
In other words, this objectification of children and those who work in public schools—which is particularly heightened when my children’s school is only slightly above the prospect of receiving even more threats to intensify the obsession on everything testing—ultimately works to close those schools. In short, corporate reform operates under the framework of threats, coercion, shaming, and blaming, and it has taken us nowhere.
What does matter is a strong public education system that is intentionally mindful of the common good. This is done through collaboration, cooperation, and the cultivation of meaningful relationships, which is attentive to building up the community, a state, a nation–all of which is filtered through the fostering of developmentally appropriate practices–and through the professionalization of teaching.
To be sure, the assistant principal who every morning greets my two boys with a welcoming smile at carpool drop-off and clearly demonstrates great care is an “A” person; the teachers who work hard, communicate well, and have the best interests of my children’s educational growth are “A” people; the principal who I had the fortune to teach in graduate school is an “A” administrator who is diligently working to push the school forward; and, finally the over 1000 children who attend my sons’ school are “A” human beings, relying on the adults to cultivate a schooling environment that works to maximize their opportunities.
We all should have no patience with so-called school report grades that are misleading and by which the public is being erroneously manipulated. Thus, the only option I see if things don’t change is to opt-out.
Coming June 2016 from TC Press: