Iron-fisted bureaucrats crush conscientious test objectors

Joy Pullmann Managing Editor, School Reform News
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It’s easy to experiment on schoolchildren, because they are a captive and vulnerable audience. States require all children to attend school, and once there the kids can be forced to do all sorts of things, aided by the fact that parents are rarely in class to monitor what’s going on.

The latest scheme is the field testing of Common Core assessments. This spring, more than four million kids will be required to spend hours on tests that have little connection to what they learned in class this year and will provide their teachers and schools no information about what the kids know.

“We already have an assessment that’s working perfectly fine,” said Bill Gillmeister, a Tantasqua, Massachusetts school board member who voted to let parents opt their kids out of the tests despite protests from the state department of education. “This is a duplication that is completely unnecessary and it’s just a waste of resources. And I don’t want my kids to participate when we’re not going to get anything out of it. My kids are being tested to death.”

Who benefits from turning children into forced test subjects? Testing organizations, which essentially have been given free rein to use children as experimental lab rats for new national math and English tests. The two organizations putting out these experimental Common Core tests — using federal funds and under close federal monitoring — are called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced.

Access to millions of children to try out experimental designs is a central planning bureaucrat’s dream come true, and it has been aided and abetted by the very people who continue to promise us they are advocates for the children. Luckily for them, they can force millions of kids to do their bidding, even over parents’ objections.

Parents who object to this scheme face bullying and harassment from public officials. From New York to Denver to California, some schools are responding by forcing kids who opt out to sit at their desks and do nothing during the several-hour tests. Normal people call that a “time out,” and it is a punishment.

Sixth-grader Sarah Johnson, of Denver, refused to take the test. But when she went back to school, staff refused to let her into class, reported Chalkbeat Colorado, an education news website. Sarah’s mother, Susan, returned to the school and fetched her daughter, angry that Sarah had been “coerced” and pushed around by grown-ups. School officials said they were merely doing what the state Department of Education had advised.

Zoe Morris, a North Carolina fifth grader, more than a year ago decided taking Common Core tests goes against her conscience. So when her father informed her school principal Zoe would not take these tests, he found himself having to discuss the issue with the school’s lawyer. Eventually, Zoe did sit for a 2013 test, but she refused to enter anything on it. That got her marked a 0 on the test, which by state law must constitute 20 percent of her final grade. Zoe is an all-As student who has been invited to apply for the Duke Talent Identification Program.

Opt-out numbers, while growing, are still relatively small. A few children who do not take a test are not statistically significant enough to change the results. It would be far more sensible to give families freedom of choice and conscience. Those are, after all, key components of American culture and law. So why would public officials punish children for obeying their parents and their consciences?

It’s not about kids — it’s about power. Those national tests move the United States closer to a nationalized system of public education. Anyone who stands in the way must be crushed.

Joy Pullmann is an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute and a 2013-14 Novak journalism fellow.