02/23/2012 12:06 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

Opt Out Chronicles: Why and How

Let's see. Since November we (Michelle and I) naively approached our school district and offered our services to help the schools deal with the kids that opt out of PSSAs (NCLB) this coming March. We were smacked down and told that we were premature to assume more children would opt out of testing this year. We were told that parents would be "educated" about the consequences if they exercised their right to opt out. We were lectured about the "only" legal opt out condition -- religion. We were directed to take up our case with politicians. And we learned that the whispering winds of sabotage were flowing directly into the ears of teachers and parents.

Therefore, we decided to?
  1. Give up.
  2. Throw in the towel.
  3. Call it quits.
  4. Hang up the gloves.

Actually, none of the above. I decided it was time to write a letter to the editor for our local paper to truly educate parents about the harm being caused by PSSAs (NCLB) and provide them with very simple instructions on how to proceed with the opt out movement. I even prepared a sample letter to give to their schools' superintendents.

Dear Central Pennsylvania Parents,

We need to take back our public schools. After ten years of No Child Left Behind and PSSAs are you ready for a change? Have you had enough with high stakes testing? Are you tired of watching the great teachers in your districts reduced to test prep managers? Does, "because it's on the PSSAs" make you cringe? Do you even know what AYP means? Did you know that a comprehensive review of research has demonstrated that PSSA (NCLB) testing revealed that students have lost ground academically? Did you know that test anxiety and high stress testing conditions can negatively affect student achievement? Did you intend for your child's scores to be used as experimental data? Did you consent to the research methods being used on your child? Have you had enough?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you might want to know that Pennsylvania law allows parents and children the right to "opt out" of PSSAs. Directly from the PA Code, "If upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessment in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director."

Specifically, you must make an appointment with the school to review the PSSA test, sign a confidentiality agreement, review the tests, and write a letter that simply states that participation in PSSAs violates your religious principles. If you're not sure how PSSAs violate religious principals please be aware that after 10 years of PSSAs, childhood anxiety disorders have dramatically risen. Children have been denied a fully comprehensive education. Our children are being used to provide data that will label the child, teacher, school, administrators, and community a failure. This data is being sold to Washington think tanks and other data management organizations. Tax money (our money) has been diverted to testing and data management companies instead of schools and children. What religion supports such a system?

So before March Madness (PSSA testing) begins please take some time to seriously consider the future of your child's education. Remember, our children only get one chance at a quality education. The PSSAs (NCLB) and the culture of high stakes testing have denied a generation of children a quality education. It is time to put an end to this punitive system. It's time to allow our teachers to get back to what they do best -- teach. It's time to demand that our public schools be given back to us. It's time to make sure our children receive the education they deserve. It's time to OPT OUT!

Sample Letter

Dear Superintendent,

Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from any State standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.

Do you think the letter will galvanize parents? Will our opt out ranks swell? I'm not sure. So far our local paper refuses to run the letter.