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Timothy D. Slekar Headshot

Opt Out Chronicles: Losing My Religion

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In case you've forgotten, I have been waiting patiently for the superintendent of schools in my district to respond to my email explaining the parent rationale for opting out of PSSA testing. Late last week I got tipped off that our superintendent planned on "educating parents" at the PTO meeting. I decided to attend the meeting in case parents needed an alternative education. Our superintendent did not attend the meeting, however the following memo (along with a PSSA rule packet) was left for parents to take. This is an interesting way for the superintendent to educate parents about opting out of the PSSAs. Bolded words appeared highlighted in yellow in the original memo.

To: Parents

From: Superintendent

Date: 2011

Re: PSSA Opt Out

We have debated the issues in regards to state testing with the politicians for more than 10 years and continue to do so. However, the reality is that Pennsylvania State Board of Education regulations require that we administer the test. I know that this is uncomfortable for some students. We try to prepare all students as best as we can and certainly have more in our curriculum than just tested items. Our scores over the last 8 years have been among the top in the state.

Thank you for supporting your child and working with the district to provide a successful academic environment.

It has been brought to my attention that there has been a movement in several areas, encouraging parents to opt their child out of the PSSA testing next Spring. Yet, the information that I have seen that has been circulated does not provide all of the details.

I am providing you additional information in regards to the reasons for opting a child out of the PSSA. The only reason to opt a child out of the PSSA is that you, as a parent, have a RELIGIOUS objection to the test. There are NO other exceptions.

We respect all religions and will respect your decision for your child to not take the PSSA based on RELIGIOUS beliefs.

I must also inform you that if you choose to use this religious exception, this goes against the School District's scores and may force us into even more state mandates and sanctions than we currently have to handle.

If you oppose state testing, please contact your Senator and Representative... they can change, what we cannot.

What is the superintendent's point? Parents', what is your reaction? I'm sure there are many ways to interpret this memo but for this post I will focus on the "RELIGIOUS objection."

According to the superintendent's memo, using the religious objection should rarely occur, and if you use the religious objection you are possibly being dishonest. The superintendent is absolutely correct that in Pennsylvania the only way to opt your child out of PSSA testing is with a religious objection. The state actually provides even more guidance by stating that, "parents and guardians do not have to defend their religious beliefs, nor do they have to identify specific test content to which they object." Parents simply can opt their child out of state testing based on a religious objection, period.

In fact, that is what my wife and I did for our son last year. However, we felt that just stating that we had a religious objection was the easy way out. We prepared a detailed letter explaining our religious objections to make certain that our opt out was not to just "get out of testing." We felt compelled to detail how PSSA testing and NCLB were antithetical to any religious convictions committed to harmony and justice.

Look, according to my read, the superintendent's memo was just an attempt to shame parents into taking the PSSAs and was manipulative. I believe its sole purpose was to confuse parents and attempt to persuade them not to "opt out" by use of coercive guilt. Am I wrong?