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Testing Opt Out: Parent Wants Conference; School Calls Police *Just in Case*

May 3, 2017

One of the great contradictions within corporate ed reform is the promoting of a “parental choice” that stops short of the parent’s choice to opt his or her children out of federal- and state-mandated standardized testing.

Once could easily argue that the states cower to the federal requirement for standardized testing related to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I funding. Indeed, the latest ESEA reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to test 95 percent of their students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school– and to offer proof of a remediation plan for schools and districts that do not produce that 95 percent.

Meanwhile, the ESSA document includes disclaimers about state-level opt-out procedures being shaped by federal testing requirements.

The federal testing requirement-coupled-with-disclaimer puts pressure on states to somehow make districts and schools deliver a 95-percent testing rate. The federal pressure is there for states to in turn pressure districts, and for districts to pressure schools–

–and for schools to pressure parents.

Despite the pressures from the federal government for states to deliver those standardized testing scores, sometimes the state, and district, and school, honor the wishes of parents regarding opting out.

And sometimes not.

The story below is the actual experience of my colleague, James Kirylo. He intended to opt his two children out of state testing in South Carolina. He spoke with the administration at his children’s school and was given no reason to believe that his request would not be honored– until testing day arrived.

Below is his story– complete with police presence.

Opt-out Not Honored; Police Invited

by James Kirylo

I am writing this piece in a momentary state of shock, from an I-can’t-believe-what-I just-experienced place.  Let me explain.

For the last two years in Louisiana, my wife and I have opted out our oldest child from participating in the standardized testing madness.  Now that we have moved to South Carolina, we are doing the same, but this time for both of our children, who happen to be in the third and fifth grades.

I not only wrote the principal and assistant principal of my intent to opt out, but I also wrote officials at the state department of my objection, providing research, reasons, and court cases for my resistance to testing.

In addition to the above, I personally spoke to the principal and assistant principal about my objections prior to testing, and frankly, they agreed.

I was given the distinct impression that accommodations would be provided for my two children to opt out.

Yet, on the morning of the first test for my fifth grader, I received a call from the school, from a Dr. Chief Instructional Officer (I will withhold the name) from the Lexington 2 SC school system, informing me that my son was placed in the classroom, and that he was given the standardized test. I was shocked, to say the least.

First, I never spoke to this Dr. Chief Instructional Officer before.  But she certainly let me know in a quick second that she was “Dr. Important” from the school system.

Second, I expressed my great displeasure, and said it was completely inappropriate for my son to be placed in the class, especially after I was given every indication by the school that accommodations would be made.

Third, I said I was on my way to the school to talk further about the situation.

When I arrived at the school, I saw two police patrol cars in front.

They were there for me.

Two uniformed police officers hovered around the office area, evidently thinking that I was a threat simply because I openly expressed my displeasure at the school for offering indications that the administration would honor my desire to opt my children out of testing and then violating those indications; for the additional displeasure that my son was engaged in an inappropriate assessment practice; and, for my profound displeasure that Dr. Chief Instructional Officer evidently side-stepped the principal and made it her place to dictate that my son—whom she does not know—go to his class where the test was being administered.

It was Dr. Chief Instructional Officer who called the police, and it was she who made all of these decisions before informing me, the parent.

So, as I was talking to Dr. Chief Instructional Officer, a Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability (I will withhold his name, too) from the Lexington 2 SC School System came in to talk with me, as well.

Of course, the police hovered around.

With the “big guns” (please excuse the expression) being brought in from the school district office, and with the police presence, I would not be telling the truth if I did not say I was a little intimidated.  Nevertheless, I didn’t mince words in discussing my shock at the educational malpractice that I was witnessing, looking at the principal and saying with a surreal sensation, “Why in the heck are the police here?”  The principal appeared sheepish, even seemed embarrassed, knowing that I have been a great supporter of the school, the administration, and teachers.

I asked Dr. Chief Instructional Officer and Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability why they waited until the morning of the tests to talk to me.

I also asked why they didn’t come to speak to me prior to testing.

Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Chief Instructional Officer and Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability knew I was opting out my two children days before the test, but they did not make any effort to contact me. Instead, they made it their business to contact me after my son was refused accommodations and forced into the class where the fifth graders were being tested.

At best, I call that awful leadership and arrogance of power; at worst, bullying and willful intimidation.

I went on saying to Dr. Chief Instructional Officer and Mr. Director of Testing, Research, and Accountability that for them to arbitrarily make a decision to place my child in that testing environment despite my wishes–and despite my respectfully contacting the principal and the school system about my intent– despite letting them know that there are pockets of parents all over the state of SC opting out– and despite the assistant principal’s giving me every indication that accommodations would be made– was simply shocking.

As I further expressed my concerns about the problems with standardized testing, their responses were robotic, Stepford-Wives-like, with their favorite line being, “We are simply following what the state department tells us to.”

When one repeatedly hears the mantra “I am just following…” in the course of a single conversation as a response or an excuse for why one does what one does, there is no more need for talking.

The conversation ended.

The police left.

As a parent, community member, and academic, I am as involved as I can be, and privileged to have had a good education.  The result is that I have a little agency, despite a system that aims to silence me, and countless others like myself.

But, my goodness, the numerous parents of school-aged children whose voices have been marginalized, whose lives are being poisoned by a system that will only alienate them more—those I truly worry about.  Moreover, what happened to the refrain of “parental rights, parental choice, and parents know more about their children than schools”?  Does parental choice stop with standardized testing? Evidently so in South Carolina.

We have more work to do to stop this testing madness.

But all is not lost.

Since the school provided no accommodations for my son despite indications they would, when he was administered the test, my son, in turn, accommodated the system—respectfully and independently on his own—by not taking the test.

The testing teacher said that he must put his name on the test; so, he did. And he chose to leave the silly bubbles blank.

While others were testing, he simply did something more worthwhile, like reading and spending time to think.

What a novel idea.


James D. Kirylo is associate professor at the University of South Carolina.  His latest book is titled Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).  Kirylo can be reached at jkirylo@


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

  1. Mary Finney permalink

    We went through a very similar situation in Georgia. We went to the school to discuss our request to refuse the tests for our children. The office staff was unusually quiet & a police officer stepped out into the lobby. He asked us to step out into the vestibule so he could speak with us. The Asst. Superintendent had apparently emailed us, the night before, at 930 pm. It never occurred to us to check our email at 7 am for a last minute notice of cancelation of the meeting. The Asst. Superintendent had all of info. He could have called & he never did.

    We had been a part of the school for a collective 13 years. It wasn’t like we were strangers, but we were treated as such. The officer was kind & through his various questioning we realized the meeting had been cancelled without proper notice. Our school treated us like a possible threat. Never mind I volunteered there, helped with many book fairs, fund raisers, and more. Once we shared our story with the officer, we all left. We were told that our presence on campus was trespassing unless our children were there, in school, during testing.

    We were blessed with Meg Norris & other parents from Opt Out GA. on Facebook. They coached & encouraged us through the whole ordeal. We were the first family in our school system to refuse & we weren’t the last.

    • “We were told that our presence on campus was trespassing unless our children were there, in school, during testing.”

      Wow, adminimal expertise to the extreme. Another example that should preserved in the Smithsonian.

    • You hit an exposed nerve with the sentence: “Our school treated us like a possible threat. ” It was shocking to me, a veteran long-term teacher in my district, to find myself and other of my peers treated as criminally suspect once testing took over our reform-funding greedy administration.

  2. Ana permalink

    No words. This country is really getting scary. Welcome to Amerika!!….where the government owns your children and can propagandize at will and inject them with as many toxic vaccines as they want.

  3. This is terrific reporting. I wish this could find a much broader audience. The tale is mesmerizing and sickening all at once.

    Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing this story Mercedes. This is our 3rd year opting out in FL and so far – we have not run in to that. If I did – som one would be bailing me out of jail. I’d be filing a lawsuit faster than they could say “WTH!” I feel bad this happened to James but he absokutely correct. How about the mental health bills going through the senate in various states – the one that is trying to allow 10 year olds to seek psychotherapy AT SCHOOL with NO parental consent. That’s right – they want to train teachers (practioners) to recognize “mental health issues” in 10 years olds and encourage them to seek “services” all while keeping it from mom and dad. What those services are – I shudder to think. Its sickening what’s going on in our schools and we have to keep fighting for our schools, our teachers and our kids. The Opt Out movement is alive and well and NOT going away. I’m so glad James’ son had the guts to refuse the test under duress. That kid is going places!!

  5. “At best, I call that awful leadership and arrogance of power; at worst, bullying and willful intimidation”

    Those words pretty much sum up the whole situation.

  6. MommaBear permalink

    That Dad should have said this to the police:

    “I’m glad you’re here, officers. I definitely want to press charges against Dr. Chief Instructional, Mr. Testing Guy, and the district for harassing my child despite my written instructions not to do so. Please arrest them for intentionally causing harm to my child, and please document everything on the police report so that the judge can see how they have violated my parental rights.”

  7. What Kirylo experienced was adminimal speech and actions at their finest. Too bad the exchanges weren’t recorded as they could have been sent to the Smithsonian to preserve such a premier example of adminimal behavior.

    Good Germans, those adminimals.

  8. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    This is beyond the boundaries of ethical conduct by administrators. This is the conduct one might expect in a police state, not a public school system. I hope this parent/professor recognizes that it may well be in the interest of all parents to create a verbatim record of anything lie these actions. MommaBear had a good idea. I hope the story goes viral.

  9. retiredbutmissthekids permalink

    If you haven’t, go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog to read her re-post of this story & read the comments.
    You must read the comment about what a parent (the garage-door-opener-fixer) did about testing.
    Says it all. Dr. Kirylo–you are a GREAT parent–your son did us all proud.
    And, MommaBear, love your idea.

    Finally, everyone, remember–we’re all in this together, you are not alone–FIGHT for your children
    w/o fear.

    Despite everything that’s happened/is happening (&, let us not forget, this double-down on testing & other horrendous education policies started during the OBAMA Administration, sanctioned by DFERs–all of them), this is STILL America.

  10. James D. Kirylo permalink

    Thanks so much for posting, Mercedes! So much appreciated the conversation!!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. South Carolina: School Calls Police to Intimidate Parent Who Wanted His Son to Opt Out | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Friday, May 5, 2017 Edition | tigersteach
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