A family tells a Newark charter school that their seventh grader is opting out of the PARCC test. That’s when the trouble starts…
By Judie Ferraris
I have a granddaughter who is a seventh grader at North Star Academy in downtown Newark. In fifth grade she transferred from Burch Charter School to Greater Newark Charter School in order to guarantee a place for sixth grade, but they were closed down by the state of New Jersey. We scrambled to get her into another school and got her into Merit Prep, which is in downtown Newark, right across from town hall, which also houses the police department, the courts and the jail. Merit had no security for the children outside the building. People say: *oh, the police station—that’s really safe.* But it’s not. There are all kinds of people hanging around outside the police station and the jail, and those kids are totally unprotected. When we got her into North Star, we thought it was a real coup. We’d heard that it was a good school and we were happy with it.
Her mother read about PARCC testing and decided that she didn’t want to put the child through that. She gets anxious over tests and she has nightmares after testing. From everything we’ve been following about PARCC in the news reports, these tests aren’t well designed, they don’t indicate much about the children’s progress and they’re being used to rate and assess the teachers and the schools. These tests also aren’t mandatory. Our question has always been: *What’s the benefit for the child?* We didn’t see any. She’s on her fourth school in three years and was just settling down and starting to get her grades together, and we’re not going to disrupt that for a week of testing that serves no clear purpose.
Our question has always been: *What’s the benefit for the child?* We didn’t see any.
At the end of February, her mother sent a letter to North Star letting them know that she was opting not to have the child take the test. That started such harassment! North Star would call and call and call. Sometimes they would call two and three times a day. They wanted us to change our minds about the child taking the PARCC test. They would tell us that she’s going to have to take standardized tests in high school and taking the test now would help her learn how to take these tests. They also argued that by not taking the test the child was letting down the North Star community, and that this was part of the responsibility to the school community that her mother agreed to when she signed the papers.
They wanted us to come downtown to the school to talk about it. When I suggested that we meet at my house or at the child’s mother’s house—someplace where we’re more comfortable—the principal said he could guarantee us a parking spot if we came to the school. I said: *Look. I don’t want to be on your ground while you overwhelm us with a whole lot of pushing to change our minds. We’re not changing our minds. We’ll listen to you, but she’s not taking the test. She doesn’t have to take the test.* Finally one day I just told the principal: *This dance is over.* It’s a quote from an old movie, back in the 30’s or the 40’s, where a woman is being harassed, and she pushes the guy away from her and says *Sir—this dance is over.* It just came to mind. So they stopped bothering me but they started pressuring the child. They’d say to her: *don’t you think you’d like to take this test? Wouldn’t you like this?* And when her mother would go to pick the child up, they’d jump on her in the hallway.
One day the principal slipped up and said: *we’ve got 20 kids who aren’t taking the test.* I don’t think he meant to tell me that, but I was thinking to myself *only 20? That’s all, out of all of the kids in the whole school?* I’m thinking about all the parents who don’t know that they can opt their kids out, and wondering how many of those 20 kids have given into the pressure.
I’m thinking about all the parents who don’t know that they can opt their kids out, and wondering how many of those 20 kids have given into the pressure.
North Star planned that kids would come in on Saturdays for the whole day to prep for the test, starting on March 5th. I told them that since my granddaughter isn’t taking the test, there’s no need for her to prepare to take it. The child goes to school from 7:30 in the morning till 3:30 or later in the afternoon. Those are full-time job hours. She needs time to spend with her family, pursue her interests, and de-stress.
She didn’t show up for the Saturday class, and on the following Monday, she was given an in-school suspension. She went to her classes but was not allowed to participate, which she was just beginning to feel comfortable doing. They also made her write an essay about why she hadn’t gone to Saturday school. How does that help her? When they punish her for doing what her mother and I tell her, how does that help her?
Testing starts on April 25th. I’m concerned about what North Star is going to do to my granddaughter during that week. I contacted Save Our Schools New Jersey because I wanted to know what happens if we keep my granddaughter out of school. The state says that the school can’t just make the kids sit and stare during the tests. Her brother is at a school for kids with special needs and the school is making all kinds of accommodations for kids who won’t be taking the tests. I also contacted the Charter Schools Association in Trenton and talked to someone who said she’d contact the school and find out what their plans are for kids who aren’t taking the test. When I heard back, I was told that there is no opt out.
I don’t trust the school. I have a feeling that if my granddaughter goes to school, they’ll either have her doing nothing or they’ll really push on her. At first our plan was to accompany her to school, to take turns just to keep an eye on things, but her mother has two other kids and I work nights. So we decided to keep her out of school that week. I’ll take her to New York to the museums. If she sits home and plays on the computer that’s OK by me too, as long as she’s not at school being pressured.
When we asked her how she felt about telling her story to the newspaper, she said: *Absolutely. What if there are other kids who are being pushed around and being bullied like this and their parents don’t know how to stand up for them?*
The child has taken up the cause. At first she was just relieved not to have to take the test. Now she’s in the fight with us. She’s all activist-minded at this point. When we asked her how she felt about telling her story to the newspaper, she said: *Absolutely. What if there are other kids who are being pushed around and being bullied like this and their parents don’t know how to stand up for them?*
Send comments or questions to Jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com.