There won't be a test and there will be a party

South Bay parents get together to opt their children out of standardized testing

Among the party treats was the "Opt-Out" cake
  • Among the party treats was the "Opt-Out" cake

Over 50 parents and teachers from throughout the county packed a Chula Vista home on a recent Saturday (February 21) for an “opt-out party.”

Kristin Phatak and Heather Poland, educators and parents who believe that students lose too much class time on test preparation and test taking, hosted the party to encourage parents to opt their kids out of standardized tests.

Kristin Phatak

Kristin Phatak

Phatak said last year only five moms attended the opt-out party, but this year she had such a huge response she was worried about seating.

Phatak has children in the Chula Vista Elementary and Sweetwater Union High School districts. She recently appeared on KUSI and shared her views on Common Core and opting out.

There is a new standardized test, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System, which students in grades 3-8 and 11 will be taking online this spring. The test is aligned with Common Core standards for math and language arts.

Phatak maintains the test is not a valid measurement of student achievement.

The assessment, she opines, is adaptive in that the difficulty of the questions change in relationship to student responses. For some students, the test becomes increasingly difficult; for others, easier.

“This does not measure the teaching in the classroom, or the school itself; rather, the socio-economic level surrounding the school,” Phatak said.

She is concerned that many assessments gather data about students. She worries that the data will be used to limit students’ opportunities in the future. So, she has opted her children out of all online tests.

Heather Poland has two children who attend a local elementary school. She teaches in San Diego Unified School District, is an administrator for a national teachers’ association called BATS, and a California contact for the national United Opt Out group.

Poland said she administered a field test for the new standardized test last year.

“My students struggled with this test,” said Poland. “One reason was because it’s online and they didn’t have pencil and paper to write things down. Many of them had trouble with the keyboard. The instructions were fairly complicated and even more so for English language learners…. The test will be graded on a curve, which condemns many students to fail.”

Some California school districts are beginning to weigh the cost of high-stakes testing.

Santa Ana Unified is one of four school districts that filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming that the mandated tests are an unfunded liability that will collectively cost school districts $1 million a year.

Closer to home, the San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously to send a resolution to Congress regarding standardized tests originating under the No Child Left Behind act. Here is a portion of the resolution:

“WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that high-stakes standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness, and the over-reliance on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing student’s love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate.”

After people had milled around the refreshment table graced by an "Opt-Out" cake, Phatak gave a PowerPoint presentation. The slides were intended to demonstrate, among other things, the relationship between big test corporations and the profit they are making from creating the tests and supplementary material.

Phatak and Poland had mock-ups of letters that could be used for opting out.

A parent asked, “What are some of the consequences of opting out?”

Phatak answered, “One of the first things that will happen is the principal will bring the parent into the office. She said because “you’re the non-educator sitting there, you might be made to feel like an idiot.”

The parent then asked, “Can there be any consequences for your child? Like, she wouldn’t be able to pass to the next grade?

Another parent, who had already been through the experience, answered, “The California Education Code [60615] makes it clear that districts can’t base students’ grades on the assessment or yearly tests, so we can opt out without fear.”

The California Department of Education website suggests, however, there are reasons parents might choose to have their child tested:

“The [new standardized assessment test] is intended to provide parents and students more accurate and actionable information about what students are learning. Because the Smarter Balanced Assessments [Common Core–derived], which are administered as part of the [assessment test] System, are computer adaptive, these Assessments will also provide better information about the needs and successes of individual students.”

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It might be difficult for some parents to take a stand such as this--because much of education in the US has been about compliance. However, this is not the time to be compliant.

Public education is actually under attack, and unfortunately there are people who are all too happy to use school children, if not exactly as fodder, then as income-generating cyphers.

Parents, help teachers teach your children. Teachers do not want to indoctrinate or cram facts into students just so they perform well on tests. Teachers want to encourage in students a love of learning, the joy of understanding and the ability to apply that learning to their own lives. Teachers want students to grow in the depth of their thinking, so they learn better decision-making, along with the appreciation of all there is to learn.

Tests have a place, but tests are not the be-all and the end-all.

Here's hoping parents take the time to make sure their children are getting the education they need, and the education this country needs them to get.

Our education system is in utter disarray. We spend an inordinate amount trying to educate "special needs" children and nothing on those who are high IQ. We use a grade system (K-12) to place students when in reality children learn at different speeds in different subjects. A student may be at the 5th grade level in reading and the 3rd grade level in math but he(she) is placed in 4th grade. We do use testing as the be-all end-all and everyone who remembers grade school knows that some students are good at taking tests and others who are just as smart are lousy test takers. Teachers are told what to do by idiot administrators and 'held accountable' by helicopter parents and abused by undisciplined children and ridiculed for being greedy union members by the public who seem to think that teaching should be a "calling" which as we all know equates to doing something for low pay and no benefits. Let each state decide what should be taught and how it should be taught and then let the market place decide if students are educated or not.

Your post says so many unfair things, I don't know where to begin. Yes, it is expensive to educate special needs children, but are you saying we should not continue to do that? If we stop educating children with special needs, what do we do with them? What happens to them? Without at least some form of education, they will be dependent on others for support for the rest of their lives.

You are mistaken about money being spent to educate children with high IQs. Surprisingly, some of our students with high IQs also have special needs: it's not unusual to have a student who is gifted in math but struggles with reading comprehension, for example. However, presuming that you are referring to students with high IQs and who excel at academics, I will say there are programs in place across the country to meet the needs of gifted students.

The number of "idiot administrators" in our schools is actually quite small. They're not "idiots," and while I may disagree with some of the things they do, I certainly don't think they're stupid or became so once they moved into administration. I do take issue with school administrators who have not been classroom teachers for an extended time (i.e. TFAs like Michelle Rhee who spent three years in a classroom and then moved in to edu-business).

No disagreement with you about the helicopter parents and the undisciplined children. ;-)

To Ms. Phatak and Ms. Poland I say 'you go girls'! Much respect being sent your way. While many will sit around and complain these two women have put verbs in their sentences and applied effort to their expertise. While I am not an expert on Common Core based on my research the plan has been rolled out poorly. Expectations of teenage students to rewire how they learn with expectations of maintaining passing grades. Parents, clueless.

My prediction - in the very near future all of those A, B, and C students grades will plummet and then the controversy will really hit the fan. And just wait - student athletes will loose eligibility, and that is when it will become headline news - resulting in the need for Ms. Phatak and Ms. Poland to:

RENT OUT THE THE JENNY CRAIG PAVILION (where they serve great garlic fries) for their yearly parent education seminar on the ills of Common Core!

AlexClarke - my expertise regarding education lies with SUHSD. It is clear that the PAST 2 superintendents, the majority of our elected old Board, and the entire Group of County Board of Ed who sat on the dais spent our hard earned tax dollars on everything but the education of our children. Take the property dealings - millions, upon millions, upon millions wasted on land speculation - and the artist of this financial debacle - Ed Brand!!!

To address your point, yes the needs of ALL students have been ignored. Your spotlight on the high achieves RIGHT ON TARGET, for the most forgotten with the exception of Bonita Vista High - you have a high achiever - send them there - the Principal and teaching staff totally focused on EDUCATION, at the highest level!!!!!

just my opinion

Are these the same people that opt-out of vaccinating their children?

No. Vaccinating our children serve a good purpose. High stakes testing does NOTHING but stress kids out, and are used to label schools as "failing".

I have seen the new SBAC/CASSPP test first hand in the pilot and field test years. It is the worst test I have ever seen, and will cause harm to our children. Any teacher knows the ability levels of their students without having high stakes testing. In fact, with these high stakes tests scores are not even available to the school and teachers until the FOLLOWING year. There is zero valuable data to be collected from it. https://ateacherspointofview.wordpress.com/

Sjtorres, do you vaccinate your children? I'd be interested in your views. And what do you think of all the standardized testing? For it or against it? Any insight?

Sjtorres - what they are, are people who will not be led, like cattle to slaughter.

It must be hard for you. Now that you have list all that power.

annie, the best thing to do with the Sjtorres comments is ignore them. The poster may be just about anyone, but something tells me that his/her name is actually S J Torres. The comments are always digs and innuendo, never anything that argues a point. For a long time, the teachers union in Sweetwater was used as the foil for all the abuses of the board members and the lackeys (including Brand/Gandara/Brand.) Any criticism was deflected by a claim it was the evil and un-progressive teachers union. McCann was really good at using that claim; we now wonder who/what he'll use to blame his bad publicity now that he's back on the council.


I always value your thoughts on education. I know you do a great deal of research and have even recommended sites to me that have turned out to be valuable resources.

It is my understanding that the standardized tests, which are given in the spring, don't make it back to the teacher anything useful for the students.

I think San Diego Unified may be leading the way. The whole resolution can be found on trustee Kevin Beiser's facebook.

I was not saying that Common Core testing was good--just that not all testing is bad!

To All,

I remember when my elementary school teacher would read one, just one chapter of Charlotte's Web every day after recess. I couldn't wait for the next day to find out what happened. That experience gave me my lifelong love of narrative, of what will happen next.

No one had to interrupt with a mandatory script and ask, "Now children who is the protagonist?" The beating of our hearts told us who the protagonist was.

I remember a teacher reading "Island of the Blue Dolphins" after noon recess, and that book has appeared and reappeared in my life! Most recently when just this past week there were news reports of the US Navy turning over items found on that island to a local tribe. Seeds planted at an early age give us the opportunity to appreciate many things.

My 4th grade teacher got in trouble for teaching us how to balance a check book. I did not like math nor did I see any need for it. That "check book" lesson brought it home for me. No, I did not become a world famous math whiz but I do understand math and therefore I learned.

For us, it was The Great Brain. I loved doing this.

Students are missing out on some great experiences for a some "test." Some of us do well and others do. I don't remember any test I took as a child. But I do remember square-dancing, creating those clay mugs that leaked for my dad, great teachers like Mr. Gove, PE and art! I miss art. Students are missing out on all the great activities we once had as students. Education has been starved at the students' end and administrators seem to be part of this big test taking agenda that seems to be financially and esthetically motivated. I think the community needs to take heed and stop the madness. On a positive note, it seems like teachers are finally starting to make connections. We need to get out of our fishbowls and be part of the solution. What is the end of result of all this? Pipeline to Prison, a country of "failures", or the breaking down of society with the 1% controlling the rest of the country through an oligarchy. Something needs to change or we are doomed. We need to give our children time to internalize and become critical thinkers. Purpose testing in the classroom is fine but there is no way that students are going to delve deeper when they are worried about how a test is going to affect them in the future. Everything is so punitive. This method is NOT going to create scientist or mathematicians.

Our students need more learning through play, arts, music, PE, science exploration, and creative outlets. We are dampening the creativity of our students by focusing so much on academic success and test taking. We are demanding more and more from our youngest students, and they are not given enough time to just be kids. There are more and more students with behavioral or attention issues. Maybe this is because we are not creating a product that best suits the client, but, instead, suits the politicians. I became a teacher because of my wonderful memories of my third grade teacher teaching us how to balance checkbooks and run a micro-society, because my fourth grade teacher gave us wonderfully creative projects that really taught something and was fun, because we had creative writing and celebrated it, because we had the chance to master math skills, because we had competitive kickball tournaments, because we were given time to create holiday art projects that my mother still hangs up (and I'm 47), and more. I still learned to read, write, and do math. I went on to college. Having those opportunities did not hold me back. I liked to go to school because learning was fun. While teachers make the best effort to still bring in fun and excitement to the classroom, it is becoming more and more difficult. We forget that we are educating children, not little adults. This testing madness has got to stop. Teacher bashing has got to stop. Trying to make my children have their nose in a book or their butt glued to a chair for hours on end has got to stop. It equates with shaking a can of soda.

I teach a vocational class (Family and Consumer Science) and at the end of each sewing project, each food lab, I review with my middle school students: Where is the science in this? Where did we use math? Where is the Social Studies? The English? At first the students don't understand, they answer with "We made a pillow, that's not Social Studies...." We talk about how and where the fabric was made, whether it's something that was 'up-cycled' and kept out of a landfill, how much we measured/calculated, the mechanics of the sewing machine, the new vocabulary... it's good critical thinking and once the students understand there will be an Outbrief after each project, I hear them anticipating their responses while they are constructing the project. It's a wonderful opportunity for me to reinforce what they've learned in their other classes, and to show them how this knowledge actually IS useful in their everyday lives.

Sadly, there is so much emphasis placed on test scores and test prep, students who struggle academically are removed from my class (or their Art or Technology Education or Computer Applications or Foreign Language class) and drilled, force-fed, and school becomes the place where the joy of learning is sucked out of them. This makes me sad and it needs to change.

EELO59, your post about incorporating critical thinking into everyday lessons reminds me of my own learning curve. When I first met Kristin Phatak demonstrating against common core outside a Duncan meeting, the first words out of my mouth were, "well the common core promotes critical thinking why would you be opposed to it."

I subsequently spoke to many classroom teachers and reflected about my own experience and I have come to agree with something Heather Poland said at the OPT OUT party. She said, "I've always incorporated critical thinking into my classroom."

This is something a human does better than a software program, pick up the current thread of a program and tie it into a lesson--and open it out, and out to "upcycle" and "landfill"...

Debra Fedyna,

I was trying to find some cumulative numbers for how much Pearson has made on test and pre-test material. I could find piecemeal prices, but not a grand total.

If you want to know why we are doing all of this testing, just follow the money. Instead of getting the education that the community and state wants for its children we now are tethered to the federal government's beliefs. Opt-out is an important movement. Parents of school age children need to get their children out of these crazy tests and allow educators to educate children. If you want to know why we're testing, follow the money trail. ^0^

This is from the administrator's blog from Scholastic magazine. Based on CA ED Code it suggests how administrators might want to respond to Opt Out parents:



Well, at least regarding PE in California schools--there will be more as a result of this lawsuit http://edsource.org/2015/lawsuit-agreement-to-force-schools-to-provide-physical-education/73544#.VPyZAhwgDcw

I recently began to notice more children on the playground...some were even out the other day with those multi-colored parachutes I haven't seen in so long. Great to see more P.E.

I don't believe I've ever seen so many comments from afar in the Reader. This is obviously a hot issue nationwide. I also find it interesting that many administrators in the country are opposed to this testing. Can all of our local principals and higher ups be 100% for kids taking this test, or do they have a vested interest? Maybe they're just too afraid to speak out.

I am glad so many people are realizing that this testing--where only 30% will be considered to have passed, and that percentage will only be determined after tests have been scored, so that only 30% will pass--is an actual criminal attempt to take over public education.

Make students look bad, make teachers look bad, then say local people cannot handle running their schools--meanwhile, it is all a gigantic set-up, worthy of film noir, except it is our students' lives at stake.

Which is why I say it is criminal.

This cannot be allowed to take place!

Today the state of California has apparently decided to hold off for one year in using the data from these tests--I guess they are saying they will have a year of further study, but they want as much data as possible.

Maybe they are starting to ramp down what they ramped up?

Let's hope that Mr. Torlakson is going to figure out a few things--such as, the general populous is not happy when the public school system is systematically destroyed by those who are supposed to keep it going and make it better.


This is quite the imploding story...as you point out California is pausing for another year.

A Missouri circuit judge has ruled the test interstate pact unconstitutional--under appeal. http://www.ktrs.com/missouri-fights-ruling-saying-common-core-test-pact-unlawful/


also wondered if you saw the common core/opt out section on the KPBS news last night?

I didn't, will have to take a look online.

There are two general groups of people opposed to Common Core: right wing nuts that don't want the federal government in the schools, and teachers union bosses.

Now since the author, Susan Luzzaro, has current and former teachers union bosses and activists in her family, we can see the motivation for this story.

The failure to disclose this relationship up front, while writing "stories" under the guise of "news journalism" is a horrendous breach of journalistic ethics. And a conflict of interest.

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