The Kids Are All Right! Part II

In September I posted a piece entitled “The Kids Are All Right!” in which I praised high school students in Jefferson County, Colorado, who staged mass walkouts to protest a plan by their right-wing school board to establish a curriculum-review committee to not only respond to an allegedly “leftist” AP framework but to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.” Now comes this video created by a group of Colorado high school students:

Organized groups of seniors from at least three Boulder Valley high schools are planning to sit out new state tests in protest.  Here is one report of their activity from the website Chalkbeat Colorado:

For the first time, two Colorado school districts could see their high schools face sanctions because a critical mass of seniors are refusing to take the state’s new standardized tests.

In what will likely be the largest — and most public — assault so far on the state’s school accountability system, nearly 200 high school students at a Boulder high school are expected to opt-out of the new standardized tests they’re supposed to take Thursday and Friday. Instead, they will hold a public protest Thursday morning outside their school.

And in Douglas County, at least one principal has made a formal plea to parents to do what ever they can to have their students take the social studies and science tests this week.

And rumors continue to grow that more schools across the state will see similar levels of students opting out.

While opponents to standardized tests cite many reasons why they opt their students out, students at Boulder’s Fairview High School, where the public demonstration will take place, say they’ve been tested their entire educational career and enough is enough.

“We want to change the community for the better, and change the way our education system works,” said Rachel Perley, a senior at Fairview High School and one of the lead organizers behind the protest.

In interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, and in a YouTube video and open letter to school and state officials, Boulder students said the new exams won’t have a direct impact on their college or career trajectory. They also claimed the tests don’t align with their high school curriculum. And they fear the gap between their ninth grade science class and their senior year won’t serve as a reliable indicator of how much they learned. . . .

Colorado has an established opposition to the state’s exams, and small number of families have always chosen to opt their students out of standardized tests. But on average, the number of students who don’t take the test based on parent refusal — Colorado’s technical term for opting out — has been less than one percent. Even last year, when it appeared the opt-out movement was stronger than ever, opt-outs only ticked up slightly.

But the students in Boulder are working outside the established opt-out community and said they’ve come to their conclusions about the new tests on their own.

Because of that, the protest and apparent increase of students refusing to take the test at other Colorado schools is likely to provide established opponents of standardized tests with plenty of ammunition as the state continues to wrestle with the question of standardized exams.

“A lot of it has to do — and I’ve been wondering what is the difference is this year, myself — with trying to test seniors, because that’s crazy,” said Karen McGraw, a Mountain Vista High School parent and leader at United Opt Out, an organization that organizes parents against standardized tests across the nation.

McGraw has opted her children out of Colorado’s testing system for three years.

“I don’t think the tests are good for kids, I don’t think they’re good for teachers, I don’t think they’re good for the future of public education,” McGraw said.

Another report noted that

The Colorado Department of Education estimates that third-graders will spend 490 minutes on tests, fourth- and fifth-graders 800 minutes, sixth graders 570 minutes, seventh- and eighth-graders 840 minutes, ninth- and 10th-graders 600 minutes, juniors — who take the ACT along with state tests — 795 minutes, and seniors 540 minutes.

The seniors in Boulder Valley said their issues with expanded state testing include that it costs valuable teaching and learning time, that it’s not an accurate measure of student or teacher performance and that testing is too expensive.

“Rather than standardized tests, let’s have smaller class sizes,” the students wrote. “Let’s fund art and music classes.”

One protesting student wrote about the protest to education historian and teacher advocate Diane Ravitch, who posted the letter on her blog:

Hello Ms. Ravitch,

My name is Jennifer Jun and I am a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. I’m writing to tell you that the senior class of our school, along with several other schools, is planning a protest of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) test that is expected to take place this Thursday 11/13 and Friday 11/14.

I have been following your blog and updates to educational issues for some time now, and I simply wanted to reach out and let you know. It would be an honor to have our event recognized by a key individual in the national education reform dialogue like you.

After extensive and research and discussion our senior class has decided that the implementation of this test did not take into account student opinions, and also does not accurately reflect the Colorado social studies and science curriculum. Therefore, we students have decided to opt out of the test and gather by the school during the testing hours to protest the lack of student voice that goes into such educational reform.

The students have been actively initiating dialogue with school administration, the district, and intend to find other channels to talk to policy makers and individuals that are involved in implementations of such tests.

Students have made a 3-minute informational video about the protest, which outlines additional details about the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38zAfVOu1tw&feature=youtu.be . We have also written an open letter discussing our opinions of the test: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tbDg-SEqpYrBUwixGh4wuMu6B0YYnfftt6u-cI5dWmQ/edit?usp=sharing

The protest was just released to the public today, and here is one of the several articles outlining the event: http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-schools/ci_26910001/boulder-valley-seniors-plan-protest-state-tests-this

Thank you for your time and for being such an active voice for the students and the betterment of education.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Jun
Fairview High School

“Students are the true victims of our nation’s obsession with high-stakes testing and standardized testing,” Ravitch writes in response. “It is they who are losing a real education while their schools are compelled to administer test after test, taking away a month or more of instruction, dropping the arts and other subjects that encourage creativity. When teachers and administrators protest, they can be fired. The students cannot be fired. They are powerful because they are free to voice their opinions without fear of retribution.  If this time of national test mania should ever subside, it will be because students like these in Colorado stood together and demanded real education, real instruction, instruction meant to recognize their talents and to inspire them to ask questions, not to check the right boxes.”

“These students reject authoritarianism; they want an education that challenges them, inspires them, brings out the best in them,” she adds. “And they are right. They are the Tom Paines of our time. May their numbers multiply. They act in the authentic American tradition of revolt against distant and oppressive authorities.”  Best of luck to Ms. Jun and her friends and classmates!  And here’s to another hopeful sign that the kids really are all right!

2 thoughts on “The Kids Are All Right! Part II

  1. Pingback: The Kids Are All Right! Part III | The Academe Blog

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