Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Oregon Superintendents and School Boards

Oregon Save Our Schools has sent a letter to as many Oregon superintendents and school board chairs as we were able to gather. Our volunteers spent many hours going to district's individual websites in order to reach out to them and ask that they not impede parents' right to opt their children out of high stakes standardized tests as well as asking them to join us in speaking out and fighting for the schools our children deserve. We apologize to any districts we may have missed and are posting the open letter here in the hopes that all will get our message.

We would also ask that parents, teachers, and community members who want a better assessment system for Oregon schools send a copy of this letter to your local school board, superintendent, state legislator, or anyone else you think needs to hear this message. Let's get together and create an assessment system that works for Oregon's students and teachers!

                              

Dear Superintendents and School Board Chairs of Oregon school districts,

As testing season approaches, Oregon Save Our Schools would like to address you on behalf of the many parents in Oregon who will be choosing to opt out their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year. 

As you know, HB 2655 was passed last legislative session. Undoubtably you have received instruction from the Oregon Department of Education regarding participation and informing parents of their right to opt their children out of the assessment. While we understand the need for you to attempt to comply with ODE directives, we write to urge you to respect parental rights as outlined in this bill which was a hard won battle led by parents who did not wish to have their religious beliefs nor their right to direct their children’s education questioned by local school districts. 

With that in mind, we ask that you not put up roadblocks that are not required by the law. Parents are not required by law to meet with anyone in the school district to obtain approval to opt their children out of testing. Further, asking principals to do anything other than accept forms handed in places a problematic burden on them which can result in a mistrust of the principal by parents. That could also be a recipe for division among parents at a school site. This was happening prior to the HB 2655 and the hope was that it would end with its passage.

While the Department of Education encourages parents to submit the form no later than February 1 in order to help districts plan, there is nothing in the law that requires parents to do so. ODE representatives, when questioned, have confirmed for  OSOS members on more than one occasion that it is a parent’s right to opt their child out of testing at any time, even if the child has already begun testing and the parent does not wish their child to continue. We have also been forwarded an email by a founder of Eugene Parents Concerned About High Stakes testing in which Holly Carter, ODE’s Interim Director of Assessment states that crossing out any statements on ODEs form about the value of testing which parents do not agree with should not prohibit parents from exercising their rights.

Additionally, opt out forms should be easily obtainable in school offices, not just available to download, and in parents’ native languages to assure equal access for all parents.

The intent of the law was to stop making it difficult and onerous for parents to exercise those parental rights. If that is at all in doubt,  you can read letters from HB 2655 co-sponsor Representative Lew Fredrick to Dr. Noor here and from co-sponsor Representative Chris Gorsek here.  We urge you to follow the spirit of the law and allow parents who wish to opt their children out to do so without interference. 

We would also like to call on any of you who feel so moved to speak out publicly against the Smarter Balanced Assessment and high stakes standardized testing in general. Note that you would not be alone. In Vermont, the State Board of Education sent this letter to parents in November of last year.  Back in 2011, a Florida school board member took their state assessment and, after seeing his results, felt it was imperative that he speak out.  And more recently, Idaho’s Superintendent of the Year gave a TEDX talk about his concerns regarding high stakes standardized testing. The full talk can be seen here.

We share the concerns of Oregon teachers regarding SBAC and look forward to all of us working together to finish the work begun by OEA and ODE towards a better assessment system.  We hope you will question assessments that do not follow the guiding principles found in the linked "New Path for Oregon" document nor "Student Assessment Bill of Rights" found on page 18 of the document. Our students deserve quality assessments that their teachers can use to inform instruction. We hope you will join us in advocating for that.

In the meantime, we hope you will heed our recommendations, made in the interest of respecting parent and student rights and minimizing divisiveness in local school communities. The new ESSA gives us great opportunity to make local decisions and while it continues to require a 95% participation rate, we believe there is no legal basis for either the federal or state government to withhold funds from a district or school based on parental decisions.

We ask you to join us in advocating for creating an assessment system that works for teachers and students and respects and restores the power of local school communities. 

Thank you for all you do for your students and families.

Respectfully yours,

Oregon Save Our Schools