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Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Test boycotters are the new revolutionaries

As a writing teacher and children’s author working in schools for the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to talk with many teachers and administrators about the Common Core, testing in New York State and related issues. Several of these professionals share the concerns of parents who have chosen to opt their children out of state testing in grades 3-8, yet it is a risk for them to publicly say so.

One special education teacher tells of watching a 9-year-old English language learner with special needs take last year’s ELA test. He colored in the circles, “A-B-C-D-C-B-A” until he reached the end.

A fifth-grade teacher tells how her school has instituted “play therapy” for stressed-out kindergarteners. So now, instead of playing, they take tests. Then, they go to therapy. A local middle school has seen a great increase in students who need therapy, students who are worried, afraid about their numbers. Some primary children make “goodie bags” for upper-grade testers.

One Western New York district has decided that first-graders no longer have time to put on class plays. There is too much testing to be done. Goodbye, tradition. Goodbye, arts.

I never know what to say. But I listen. For these teachers and administrators cannot tell everyone their stories. To speak honestly on this issue places a public educator’s job on the line. Free speech has been muzzled.

Therefore, it is parents’ voices we hear: parents who do not wish for their children to spend countless hours preparing for untested tests and untested standards, parents who believe in kindergarten play, in recess, in addressing childhood poverty before focusing on purchasing one-to-one computers (The Gates Foundation has invested millions in the CCSS) for testing.

Some parents may not see or may not mind the educational shift toward data and away from children, may not wish to read about it in the paper or know that this spring, children whose families opt out of tests may be allowed to read books (except in districts with a “sit and stare” policy). Yet this is what makes a democracy powerful – the willingness of some individuals to speak with their actions, to make decisions others will notice, to attract attention to a concern.

It is the riskers who make change: the revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the school integrators, the marchers in parades, the ones who opt out. The riskers make changes for all of us; in order for change to happen, someone must be willing to go first.

And so, while it may be uncomfortable to know that one’s child may see other children not taking tests, a parent can take this as an educational opportunity, a chance to teach about our great country where people have the right to oppose and to act.

A simple, “Your friend’s family has made a decision that is best for them” is enough for a third-grader to understand. People have different religious beliefs, different beliefs about money, different beliefs about education. We like that here.

We each choose a plot of land on which to stand and fight. Or we don’t. If we choose not to, let us respect and honor the words, choices and actions of those who do.