Peg Robertson is a teacher and a founder of United Opt Out, a national group that encourages parents, students, and other educators not to take or give the state tests. She writes here that though she has refused to administer the PARCC assessments, someone else will do it. Try as she might, she admits, she cannot protect the children from endless test prep and the age-inappropriate practices introduced into the early grades by Common Core.
“Across the nation teachers are fighting back hard. Across the nation – actually across the world – teachers will shut their doors and do their best to protect children from high stakes testing, test prep, nonstop district and state mandated testing and more. But – the truth is this, our best is not good enough, because in order to attempt to do our best we are jumping through hoops, shutting our door to secretly do what is right for children, spending our own money on resources for our classrooms and on supplies for children who have none, and we are spending hours and hours gaming our way through “teach to the test” curriculum and massive amounts of mandated corporate formative and summative assessment – in order to attempt to “do our best.”
“So, I’m going to be blunt here. I cannot do my best under these conditions. I can attempt to do my best, but my best under these conditions is not good enough. And my attempts to play the game and resist where I can will not be enough to protect your children from what is happening….
“And I cannot protect children from certain non-negotiables within common core curriculum and on-going assessment. We cannot protect the children from the common core professional development which takes us away from our buildings and leaves children with substitute teachers. As a literacy coach, I do what I can to rephrase and rid my school of corporate reform language such as rigor, grit, calibrate, accountability, no excuses and college and career ready. I can even replace these words with language that represents inquiry, heart, relationships, community, equity, creativity and more. But ultimately, all of my attempts are simply band aids.
“Even though I have done my best to make writing “on-demand” prompts developmentally appropriate for kindergarten (let’s face facts -there is NO such thing), it is still an “on-demand” writing prompt for kindergarten. Even though I will do everything in my power to support children in their inquiries about bugs, outer space, poetry, sports, cooking, their favorite authors, music, art, history and more; I cannot stop the testing train which makes stops in every classroom every week in some shape or form. The classroom is no longer driven by the rhythm of learning, it is driven by the testing schedule which continually interrupts our children’s talk and exploration of their interests – the testing schedule extinguishes the passion for learning. It makes all of us tired with the constant stop. start. stop start. as we try to regroup and get back on track with the real learning that is occurring in the classrooms. I can’t tell you how many “ah ha” moments have been lost for children as they had to break away from their projects, their thinking, their conversation, in order to hunker down over an assessment as they labor for the corporations…..
“Some days I feel like a nurse inside a war tent with wounded soldiers. And no matter how brave I am, no matter how much I stand up to these reforms, it is not enough – they have taken away so much of my power, and my ability to make professional decisions in order to protect children and do what is right for all children.
“I teach at a school with 73% free/reduced lunch. Over 40 languages are spoken within my school. I know what our children need – they need wrap around services for poverty, books, librarians, small class size, health care, nurses, counselors, recess, quality food, and the opportunity to express their interests as they talk, read, write, play, sing, dance, create and smile. But you see, that doesn’t create corporate profit. Poverty must be ignored in order to keep corporate profit churning.
“Parents, I cannot protect your children. I must be honest in telling you that the war is alive and well in our classrooms, and children are being harmed every day. What is happening is evil, cruel and abusive. Refuse the tests and deny the corporations the profit, deny the district, state and federal government your child’s data (which they can share with corporations), deny the publishing companies the opportunity to create more common core products. Without the data, the profit ends and we have an opportunity to reclaim our public schools, our profession. We have an opportunity to do what is right for all children. I am done smiling and saying, I am doing my best. I’m not.”