DENVER-For the last twelve years federal programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been named by educators, parents, and students as the push behind a standardized education system that fails to prepare students for life beyond high school. Earlier this month the Denver Student Union-an organization of metro students-gave the first ever State of the Student Address at the state capitol demanding an end to statewide “high stakes” standardized testing and a redirection of the funds that are spent on the testing to instead prepare students for their civic responsibilities.
Here students of all ages protested the lack of control that they have over their own education, particularly the privatization of their education. Alex Kacsh member of Students 4 Our Schools has been working for a democratic approach to education his entire high school career and spoke at the capitol,
“In the last three years, policymakers, voters, and school board members have failed to give us a quality education. My peers who are black and brown are in an education system that is racist and they call that schooling, they call that education. My peers who are black, brown, and/or privileged are the victims of an education system that benefits the rich corporations and some elected officials. That we the students are being left behind and forgotten about and lost because our education is confined to a one size fits all method of learning. That we need a democracy in our schools where the students can have the most important voice and influence in their curriculum and in their schools. That we have equal funding and access to our education. I have met students who have given up hope because they weren’t able to express themselves. I have met parents who were afraid that their students couldn’t graduate because of our testing system. And I have met teachers who have had the drive in their classrooms with no hope at all because they were so confined.”
Colorado public schools are currently in standardized testing season. This year, aa record number of parents are rejecting the notion of standardized tests and are “opting out” their children from taking the tests. Opponents say that the tests don’t represent learning, that corporations are making high profits for both the development but also grading of the tests and that those profits should be directed toward classrooms and on a more holistic approach to education. Teachers say that most of their time previously directed towards teaching is now spent on instructing for test-taking skills in preparation for the tests.
“We’ve got a lot of parents refusing to test. They recognized that it creates narrow learning in their classrooms,” Peggy Robertson is a founder of United Opt Out, a group that supports parents who don’t wish their children to take the standardized TCAP or Transitional Colorado Assessment Program that has been implemented by the Colorado Department of Education to replace the former CSAP-the Colorado Student Assessment Program. She said that high stakes testing is more about high stakes profits than a measurement of learning, “We recognize that it becomes very difficult to privatize education without that data. That’s really their intention behind high stakes testing. They realize because the stakes are so high that teachers are literally doing test prep all year long. So there’s not a lot of authentic learning and teaching going on. We see it more intensely in the high poverty schools. So these past few weeks we have just been swamped with helping parents refuse the test.”
Some parents report being threatened with having their children denied access to after-school activities, with penalties for showing up on school grounds during testing, and some are being denied class time even after the testing has stopped for the day. Many of these absences have been documented as unexcused leading to further disciplinary action. “In Denver Public Schools this past week, we’ve had parents-their children were denied entrance into the school because they were told, ‘because you’re opting out, you can’t come to school until the end of March when the testing window is over. Obviously we have a right to be in the school because we pay for them with our tax dollars.”
Colorado parents are saying though that the Colorado Department of Education is fighting back by measures they didn’t expect. Susan Johnson said that two armed guards met her at the door of her child’s school attempting to prevent her child who was opting out of testing from entering the school. She said that when she advised the guards that the person walking next to her was a member of the media, that the guards allowed her and her child to enter.
Sean Black is a parent and teacher himself from Johnstown, Colo. His child Noah, is in a public school special needs program and that one year during testing, his son rebelled against the testing so much that he self-mutilated, “He literally bit bruises into both biceps.”
He added that it wasn’t the principle but the Department of Education who was behind what he called intimidation, “I appreciate the principal at Roosevelt High School trying to work with him but what [the principal] kept saying was, ‘It’s [the Colorado Department of Education-CDE] giving us no option.’ So I called CDE and continued to get, ‘It’s state law. It’s state law. It’s state law.’”
Black said that his rights as a parent were never acknowledged in the conversation with the Colorado Department of Education and that after that conversation he got a knock on his door.
“The doorbell rings and it’s Sergeant Mendez from the Johnstown police with a report of imminent harm possible. And with talking with Sergeant Mendez a little bit more, he said that what he was told was that my son was in imminent harm and that he was going to have to take the test. And so the manipulation of the Colorado Department of Education just infuriates me that he would actually call the police in what I had no doubt in my mind was an attempt to intimidate me into forcing [my son] to take the test. And he picked the wrong parent to try to intimidate.”
Then we’ve got these situations in Jeffco, then Denver Public Schools, Douglas County-a lot of pushback there because they are [under] complete takeover there and the parents are just up in arms,” Robertson talked about additional situations throughout the state, “We’ve just heard of an incident in Cherry Creek so people aren’t quite sure how to handle it. I don’t think principals honestly know what to do because there’s so many cases of opt out this year. I think they have been taken off guard.”
After the State of the Student Address earlier this month, students delivered a petition to the Colorado Department of Education signed by over 500 people outlining the changes they want to see in their schools. A copy of the petition was sent to Governor Hickenlooper’s office.
United Opt Out is holding a three-day conference March 28-30. Organizer Peggy Robertson says the focus will be on reclaiming school boards, unions and civil rights.
Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report