James Kirylo, university professor and expert on the works of Paulo Freire, wrote the following letter:

James D. & Anette A. Kirylo
P.O. Box 8698
Columbia, SC 29202
985.956.0563 / jkirylo@yahoo.com

April 25, 2017

Dr. Nancy Busbee, Deputy Superintendent
Division of Accountability
State of South Carolina, Dept. of Education
1429 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29201

Greetings, Dr. Busbee,

As you can see, attached is a letter that I sent to my two sons’ school, Claude A. Taylor Elementary. In that letter, indicating I have one son in 5th grade and the other in 3rd grade, I specify that my wife and I are refusing to allow them to participate in taking the upcoming standardized tests, providing four broad reasons for our decisions.

Moreover, I make clear we have a tremendous respect for both our children’s teachers and the administrators, who lead the school. They are doing a tremendous job and I wish to continue to send my two sons to a school where they look forward to participating every day. Therefore, as I mention in my letter, please understand that our action is no way a reflection of our feelings toward the teachers, staff, and administrators who diligently work at Claude A. Taylor Elementary.

My refusal to participate in SC Ready and SC Pass is because I believe standardized high stakes testing in the current they are being used take away time from the instructional experiences my child might otherwise receive. I want more teaching and learning, and less testing! The state seems to believe that my child is obligated to participate in testing because the state or the policy makers demand it, when in fact the social contract of public schooling is grounded on the premise that the state and policy makers are obligated to the needs of children.

As you are aware, the U.S. Constitutional rights trump local school policies. Precedents that were set forth are grounded in several legal cases (see legal case descriptions at end of this document). Also, as you know, according to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35).

The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158) 5.

In closing, I understand that it is state and local policy to require all students to be evaluated for proficiency in various subject areas at each grade level. However, I believe that testing is not synonymous with standardized testing and request that the school and my child’s teacher(s) evaluate his or her progress using alternative (and more meaningful) measures including: projectbased assignments, teacher-made tests, portfolios, and performance-based assessments, to be determined at the discretion of the teachers and myself together.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Again, please see more detail in my letter to the school.

Sincerely,
James D. Kirylo

——————————————————————————————————————

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LEGAL PRECEDENTS FOR REFUSING HIGH STAKES STANDARDIZED TESTING

“Meyer v. Nebraska upheld parents’ rights by affirming “the natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life…” Clearly the preferences of the parents in educational matters outweighed those of the government. The court further emphasized, “The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right of the individual … to establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to his own conscience.”

Pierce v. Society of Sisters confirmed Meyer v. Nebraska and parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their children with regard to religions matters and to direct their children’s education. The decision in Pierce, struck down an Oregon education law which, required all children ages eight and sixteen to be educated in public schools. The Court stated: “Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children. The Pierce decision also upheld parents’ rights to protect their children from government standardization, making it clear that children “are not the mere creature of the state…”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Prince v. Massachusetts clearly admitted that parents held the highest responsibility and right to control the upbringing of their children, not the State. “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.”

Griswold v. Connecticut, emphasized that the state cannot interfere with the right of a parent to control his child’s education, and that the right to educate one’s child as one chooses is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The Court further stated that this right was applicable by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In 1972, Wisconsin v. Yoder upheld the Pierce decision by declaring: “This case involves the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the state, to guide the religious future and education of their children. The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring tradition.”

The 1996 decision in M.L.B. v. S.L.J. firmly voiced that the choices about marriage, family life, and the upbringing of children were ranked as “of basic importance in our society,” again emphasizing that the rights sheltered by the 14th Amendment against the government’s “unwarranted usurpation, disregard, or disrespect.” This particular case involved the State’s authority to permanently sever a parent-child bond. The Court’s decision unequivocally upheld parents’ rights in general.

The Supreme Court in Reno v. Flores in 2000 states: “There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests, there is normally no reason or compelling interest for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their children,” and Troxel v. Granville, “The state may not interfere in child rearing decisions when a fit parent is available.”

In 1978, Congress enacted the Protection of Pupil Rights Act, which gives parents the right to inspect educational material–ALL educational material, which would include anything used in the course of providing instruction to our children……A parent has the right to remove a child from objectionable classroom instruction and/or activity. Three clauses in two different amendments lay the solid foundation for these constitutional provisions: the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses.

The First Amendment Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses s, combined with the Fourteenth Amendment’s fundamental liberty interest of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children, form a strong foundation upon which parents can assert their right to opt their children out of objectionable school material or activities. The higher the degree of coercion on students to participate in, or otherwise endorse the classroom activity, the stronger the constitutional argument in favor of a parental opt-out right.

“in the final analysis, the power of God is God” gustavo gutiérrez

The attached letter reads:

James D. & Anette A. Kirylo
P.O. Box 8698
Columbia, SC 29202
jkirylo@yahoo.com

April 24, 2017

Claude A. Taylor Elementary School
103 Ann Lane
Cayce, SC 29033

Greetings, Ms. Garrison and Mr. Siedschlag:

I am writing to inform you that my wife and I are refusing to allow our two sons, Antonio and Alexander, to participate in taking standardized tests. It is my understanding, that in the case of Alexander (3rd grade) that would be the refusal of the SC Ready test, and for Antonio (5th grade), the SC Ready and SC PASS. I assume you will have other types of educational activities for my children (and those of others who also refuse their children to participate in testing) during the respective testing periods.

The following are four broad reasons why we are refusing to allow our sons to participate in testing:

1. Narrows the Curriculum
First, the emphasis on testing has extraordinarily narrowed the curriculum, coercing teachers to simply focus on prescribed areas of certain disciplines that will be tested. As a consequence, the arts in all its forms have greatly been deprived; social studies and the sciences have received less attention; and, especially for the very young, the idea of play and recess has been dismissed as frivolous. Moreover, a climate of testing is creating a teaching and learning environment of fear, in which students and teachers resist in taking risks and exploring deeper on a respective theme, for fear of deviating from the set curriculum (Solley, 2007).

And those that are affected the most with this narrowing of the curriculum are largely poor and minority students who are reduced to minimal options and opportunities in order to be drilled and skilled to prepare for testing, all in an effort to “measure” their “growth.” Regarding that phenomenon, Kozol (2005) explains it this way:

As damaging as the obsessive emphasis on testing often proves to be for kids in general, I believe that the effects are still more harmful in those schools in which the resources available to help the children learn the skills that will be measured by these tests are fewest, the scores they get are predictably the lowest, and the strategies resorted to by the principals in order to escape the odium attaching to a disappointing set of numbers tend to be the most severe. (p. 110)

To be sure, this entire effort has led to the dumbing down of the curriculum, dulling the entire schooling experience (Solley, 2007; Sacks, 1999).
Driven by the thinking of the NCLB Act, the Race to the Top Program, and the current Trump Administration is the mistaken notion that the ability to measure schools is equated with fixing them (Darling-Hammond, 2004). As Rose (1989) asserts,

We are a nation obsessed with evaluating our children, with calibrating their exact distance from some ideal benchmark. In the name of excellence, we test and measure them—as individuals, as a group—and we rejoice or despair over the results. The sad thing is that though we strain to see, we miss so much. All students cringe under the scrutiny, but those most harshly affected, least successful in the competition, possess some of our greatest unperceived riches (p. xi).

2. Creates a Stressful Environment
Second, an emphasis on high stakes testing has created a schooling environment that has cultivated stress and pressure, not only negatively impacting the lives of teachers and administrators, but naturally those of children. With respect to the latter, children are led on a path of confusion.

On one hand, teachers routinely share with students to work carefully, take their time to think through their work, and to focus on critical thinking, but when it comes to standardized assessment instruments, all of the latter becomes artificial musings when students are forced to respond within a prescribed standardized test time. Moreover, a results-orientated climate clearly undermines process, which not only creates havoc on a forming self-concept, but also causes great confusion in forming that self-concept (Solley, 2007; Perrone, 1991).

Cizek and Burg (2006) argue that the notion of test anxiety is not a new happening, but in times past, the manifestation of that anxiety in a school setting was collectively a mild response to taking tests of any kind. However, in an era of high-stakes testing, the appearance of anxiety has not only notably risen, but is also acutely experienced with younger and younger children. Test anxiety naturally creates a stressful schooling environment, which is manifested in students in a variety of ways.

For example, consider the following:
General Effects of Test Anxiety on Students

Effect Relationship(s)
Stress Test anxiety can induce symptoms of stress,
such as crying, acting out, verbalizations

Attitude toward tests and testing Test anxiety can diminish effort or increase
student apathy towards testing

Attitude towards self Test anxiety can reinforce, induce poor self-
esteem or poor/inaccurate self-evaluation (“I
can’t do anything,” “I am so stupid…”)

Test behavior Test anxiety can prompt cheating (e.g., sharing or copying of answers obtaining/using illegal copies of “secure” materials, etc.)

Academic motivation Test anxiety can decrease student motivation to learn in general

Motivation (future) Test anxiety can be associated with dropping out of school, grade retention, graduation, placement in special programs/classes

Test anxiety Effects of test anxiety can “cycle back” to result in successive poor test performance, leading to increased levels of test anxiety

(Cizek and Burg, 2006, p. 31)

In addition to the above, a high-stakes testing environment has had a remarkable anxiety-inducing effect on teachers as well, receiving pressure from administrators and parents, not only adversely affecting teacher morale, but, as earlier mentioned, simply reducing them to teach to the test (Cizek & Burg, 2006). In short, for teachers, our preoccupation with testing “…is one of the most demoralizing, energy-draining forces in education today” (Graves, 2001, p. 80).

3. Dulls Motivation and Ignores Appropriate Practice
Third, with a focus on “results” and “scores” or extrinsic measures, the consequence of such focus dulls intrinsic motivation to learn, not to mention the joy of learning in itself is greatly reduced. Clearly, an environment of testing has resulted in an approach that focuses on low-level skills in order to assure the possibilities toward working to mark the best answer (Solley, 2007; Sacks, 1999).

There is scant evidence in which the overuse of standardized testing has substantively improved learning; in fact, learning has been greatly reduced in such a way that developmentally appropriate practices have been largely ignored, yielding, as earlier mentioned, to skilling and drilling, particularly affecting those young people who have been historically disenfranchised. What obviously gets lost are children and their excitement about learning and their natural curiosity to discover and inquire.

Particularly for primary level children, these tests are extraordinarily inappropriate. As Perrone (1991) puts it, “These are years when children’s growth is most uneven, in large measure idiosyncratic; the skills needed for success in school are in their most fluid acquisitional stages. Implications of failure in these years can be especially devastating” (p. 133). Indeed, these tests from very early on have subjected youngsters to unnecessary labels, determining whether they get accepted in certain programs, whether they should pass a grade or not, whether they are “slow” or not, and a host of other labels that not only harm children, but also have no substantive educational benefit (Perrone, 1991).
As if that were not enough, teacher professionalism in making judgments and decisions have been undermined in this entire process, all of which has forced them to teach in such a way that counters what they know that best addresses the needs of their diverse student population (Solley, 2007).

4. Promotes Teacher Turnover and Cost Prohibitive
Fourth, testing has resulted in many excellent teachers exiting the profession not only because they are more and more viewed as simple functionaries subjected to overcrowded classrooms without support, but also—to reiterate—our fanatical focus on tests, scores, and results has created an enormously stressful working environment.

The median teacher turnover rate is 17 percent nationally, but that rate jumps to 20 percent in urban settings. Within three years into the profession, it is estimated a third of new teachers leave, and after five years, approximately 46 percent of them are gone. With respect to recruiting, hiring, and attempts to hold onto new teachers, this “revolving door” has translated into an estimated annual cost of $7 billion (Kopkowski, 2008).

Finally, schooling that is focused on an unhealthy competitive environment that is more interested in comparing and contrasting numbers, ratings, and scores instead of the welfare of human beings has not only shortchanged precious instructional time, but also has come with a monumental price tag. For example, based on a recent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) study examining a midsized undisclosed school district in the Midwest and one in the East, the cost and instructional time spent on standardized testing has increased from NCLB to the Race to the Top program.

The breakdown per annual pupil spending in the Midwestern district was as follows: K-2 grades (approximately $200); 3-8 grades ($600 or more); and, 9-11 grades ($400-600), and the breakdown per annual pupil spending in the Eastern School district was as follows: 1-2 grades (approximately $400); 3-5 grades (between $700-$800); and, 6-11 grades (more than $1,100).

In addition, the report stated that one district not only administered 14 different assessments annually to all students in at least one grade level, but also other assessments were administered at various times during the year in other subjects, tallying to 34 different times tests were annually administered. And the other district administered 12 different assessments that comprised of 47 different times they were annually administered.

The report also stated that on average test preparation in the targeted testing grades can annually take anywhere from 60 to more than 110 hours. To put another way, with testing preparation and testing days combined, one district used 19 full school days, and in the targeted testing grades in the other district a month and a half was used. Lastly, while in one school district if testing were discarded, 20 to 40 minutes of instruction time in most grades could be added to the school day, the other district could add nearly a whole class period to the school day (Nelson, 2013; Strauss, 2013).

To be sure, this AFT report is simply indicative of the tip of the iceberg regarding the time and cost given to standardized testing all over the country; consider NCLB which emerged in 2002, the price tag of annual standardized test went from $423 million to approximately $1.1 billion in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2014.

Conclusion
As you likely know, major educational organizations, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA), National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), International Reading Association (IRA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), American Evaluation Association (AEA), Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI), National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), American Psychological Association (APA), and others have either written position statements or resolutions regarding the overuse of standardized tests.

Moreover, as you also may know, according to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35). The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).

Finally, to be sure, we have a tremendous respect for both our children’s teachers and you, the administrators, who lead the school. You all are doing a tremendous job and I wish to continue to send my two sons to a school where they look forward to participating every day. Therefore, please understand that this action is no way a reflection of our feelings toward you all and the teachers at Claude A. Taylor School. Our issue is with high stakes standardized testing and the harm it does to children and our public schools.

References
Cizek, G. J., & Burg, S.S. (2006). Addressing test anxiety in a high-stakes environment: strategies for classrooms and schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2004). From “separate but equal” to “no child left behind”: The collision of new standards and old inequalities. In D. Meier and G. Wood, Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging our Children and Our Schools. (pp. 3-32). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Graves, D. H. (2001). The energy to teach. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Kopkowski, C. (2008). Why They Leave: Lack of respect, NCLB, and underfunding—in a topsy-turvy profession, what can make today’s teachers stay? Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/12630.htm

Kozol, J. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Nelson, H. (2013). Testing more, teaching less: What America’s obsession with student testing costs in money and lost instructional time. American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/news/testingmore2013.pdf

Perrone, V. (1991). On standardized testing. Childhood Education, 67(3), 132-142.

Rose, M. (1989). Lives on the boundary. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Sacks, P. (1999). Standardized minds. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Solley, B. A. (2007). On standardized testing: An ACEI position paper. Childhood Education, 84(1), 31-37.

Strauss, V. (2013, July). How much time do school districts spend on standardized testing? This much. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/25/how-much-time-do- school-districts-spend-on-standardized-testing-this-much/