Friday, March 7, 2014

Comments regarding parental opt out of PARCC pilot

I've been asked to post what I said last night. 
I've posted the video here.

I really appreciate Superintendent Boone’s very reasonable and practical response to the question of what will happen to students whose parents choose to not have them take the PARCC pilot this spring. They will not be punished. They will not be disciplined or intimidated. They will simply go elsewhere in the building and do other work.
I would ask, in the form of a motion, that the administration develop a clear protocol for this circumstance, which we know will happen this spring. Will, for example, the child himself have to refuse the test? Is a note from the parent refusing sufficient?
I ask due to scenes across the country--most recently in Chicago--of principals and teachers intimidating children as young as eight regarding refusal on tests. I do not wish to see these scenes in Worcester, nor do I wish to be on the defending end of the lawsuits sure to follow. 
Thus I would ask that we lay out clearly to parents, to teachers and administrators, and to students what protocol is to be followed in pilot refusal this spring. I would ask that this protocol be forwarded to the School Committee on our next agenda.

That deals ably with the management end of this question. That leaves us with the policy end, the School Committee piece, specifically that of the response of the DESE to the question regarding parental opt out.

This legal opinion--which has been described, most charitably, as ‘weak’ by those who have read it--reads in Chapter 69 of the Mass General Laws an authority which simply is not there. There is a rich irony in their heavy dependence on Chapter 69, as the state generally ignores most of what is called for here, including the employment of  “a variety of assessment instruments on either a comprehensive or statistically valid sampling basis.”
Leaving that aside, while Chapter 69 does call for “a system for evaluating on an annual basis the performance of both public school districts and individual public schools” and for the Board to develop “procedures for updating, improving or refining the assessment system,” nowhere in Chapter 69 or elsewhere in Mass General Law are individual students required to participate in testing, whether of the pilot or the required variety (the state is required to “conduct” such tests, only). 
Thus, the legal grounding for the DESE opinion does not exist.

Moreover, Mr. Chair, what is NOT dealt with in this legal opinion is of most concern. This is a field test, a pilot...this is research.It was clearly adopted as such by the Board of Ed in their vote this fall. The state is piloting this assessment to try it out vis-a-vis the MCAS. In doing so, it is attempting to REQUIRE the participation of minor children in a research project conducted by the state. 
Bluntly, Mr. Chair, that violates state and federal law, international protocol, and every research policy set with which I am familiar. You cannot require or compel the participation of ANYONE in research, let alone minor children without parental consent. The legal implications of doing so, or even attempting to do so, are nightmarish.

Further, this legal opinion ignores--I hope it ignores and isn’t ignorant of--the enormous body of case law regarding the delicate balance of parent rights regarding minor children and the state’s compelling interest in their education. There are numerous Supreme Court cases that have dealt with this line at length. Most notable, Meyer vs. Nebraska draws the line of where the state’s interest must end; Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters speaks of parents’ interests and responsibilities over and beyond those of the state’s. Additionally, here in Massachusetts, Prince vs. Massachusetts deliniates when the state’s compelling interests can and cannot intervene; the Charles decision extends that question to the school district itself. That none of this figures in the DESE legal opinion is deeply troubling.
I move, therefore, Mr. Chair, that the School Committee itself join others across the state and develop and forward a response to this weak opinion from the state to be approved at our next meeting. We cannot simply let such atrocious legal reasoning stand, and we owe it to our parents and our students to preserve our authority here and their authority and rights as well.

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