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Apr 9, 2013
06:00 AM
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Test Stress: The PSSA Opt-Out Controversy

Test Stress: The PSSA Opt-Out Controversy

Standardized test season is upon us. In Pennsylvania, the PSSAs (which stands for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) will be administered starting today, and the NJASK (Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) is hot on its heels, coming in May. While Pennsylvania students sharpen their no. 2 pencils to tackle the PSSA packet, a grass-roots group of parents have been sharpening their rhetoric against the test itself, choosing to “opt out” their children from taking the exam in the first place.

Pittsburgh mom Kathy M. Newman, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, recently wrote a trenchant letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explaining “Why I Won’t Let My Son Take the PSSAs.” In this missive, which has gone viral to the tune of 26,000-plus Facebook shares, Newman says her opt-out stand is an “act of civil obedience,” a blow against “high-stakes tests” that “warp the educational environment” and “will put so much pressure on [her son] that it probably will not reflect his true abilities.” She laments the use of standardized tests to “evaluate, close and punish public schools,” likens the testing atmosphere to that of a prison and details the emotional stress her son experienced while studying nightly for the exam.

In response, Tim Eller of the PA Department of Education, fired back a letter to the editor defending the necessity of the PSSAs to evaluate school standards and labeling Newman’s take “quite disturbing.” Of course, this all follows the widely publicized account of two Philadelphia principals who lost their administrative credentials for falsifying test results in a bid to boost their schools’ reputations and budgets, and moms everywhere have been buzzing about the cheating scandal that recently got a host of Atlanta educators arrested.

Pennsylvania law allows parents to opt out their children if the test material conflicts with their religious beliefs. (Newman stated the test conflicted with her family’s “humanistic-based faith.”) Last year, 260 of 932,000 students opted out of the PSSAs. According to Newman, the opt-out movement is spreading across her neck of the state as well as the entire country, with a banner organization called United Opt Out National aiding grass-roots efforts like hers. Today, her son read in the school library as his peers pored over the multiple choice answer sheet. Would you ever opt out your children as “a revolt” against what Newman states is “hurting students, schools and the quality of education”? Let us know in the comments below.

Cheryl Krementz is the new managing editor at MetroKids.

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