Mary Nelson, the mother of a 9-year-old boy with disabilities, wanted to opt her child out of state testing, but the law doesn’t permit opting out.


She wrote a heart-wrenching story about her efforts to get him excused from what she knew would be a painful and humiliating experience for him, but the bureaucracy could say only that there is no opting out, no excuses. They even insisted that they were protecting his “rights” by requiring him to take tests that he could not pass.


She wrote:


I am the mother of a wonderful 9-year-old who has some learning differences. His challenges make school days very hard. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder and mood disorder. Quite a list for such a little guy. To say we have had a rough time at school is an understatement.


At my son’s last Individualized Education Program meeting, considerable time was spent discussing how to help him get through the English Language Arts benchmarks and the End of Grade tests.


It was the consensus of his team that the tests were above his ability. Why should he be required to take tests that are above his ability when we already know what the results will be? The answer: “It’s the law.”


As his mother, I have spent all his life trying to protect him and doing what I believed to be best for him. So this did not sit well. I envisioned him having to sit at a desk for three hours at a time, trying to answer questions he doesn’t know the answers to. To me, that is child abuse. State and federal leaders are currently debating how many standardized tests children should be required to take and whether parents should have the choice to opt out of tests they see as harmful to their children. These leaders need to pay closer attention to the experiences of children like my son.


Imagine if your boss told you that you needed to take a three-hour test and that, when you opened it, you discovered it was in Latin. What would you be feeling? Anxiety? Fear? Anger? Embarrassment? Am I going to lose my job? What will my boss think? Was I supposed to know this? If your boss told you not to worry, that it didn’t matter whether you knew the answers, would you believe it? If your performance didn’t matter, why would you be taking the test in the first place?


Now consider this happening to a 9-year-old with emotional issues. How, in good conscience, can I let this happen to my child?….


If you know anything about children with disabilities, you know that you can do things right 100 times and that all it takes is to do it wrong once and it’s like starting over. For what? Why can’t his school be allowed to make a sensible, child-centered decision? Why can’t I do what I know is right for my child? To me, this is just crazy.


Many state legislatures have established official opt-out procedures that recognize the right of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children. If North Carolina’s legislators care about children like my son and about the rights of parents, they will take similar action.


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