Parents Я Dumb


How not to respond to an opt-out request…

Dear education official: when a parent informs you that their child(s) will not be participating in a standardized-test-related activity, is the appropriate response to A: inform the parent that such is his or her right under Massachusetts’ ever *evolving* position on said right (or lack thereof); B: treat the opportunity as a *teachable moment* and *drill down* into the amount of testing currently mandated by the district in question; C: mock said parents in assorted correspondence with other education officials; or D: hope that said parents don’t file a public records request and pass said mocking correspondence onto a blogger… 

teachable momentTeachable moment
Our story begins last year, when Massachusetts’ education officials issued a series of confusingly conflicted directives regarding whether parents here have the right to *opt-out* of the statewide tests, including a fresh new test meant to test college and career readiness. Breaking: they don’t. No wait—the official state position is that while no such right exists, school leaders may see to it that the *lil refuseniks* are afforded an alternate educational activity as long as they don’t distract the other test takers from their test taking. No wait, wait: left unresolved by this un-resolution was the question of whether parents may also refuse the practice tests that students in a growing number of districts take to practice practicing for the real test. 

Malcolm in the Middle
The main characters in today’s tale reside in one of the Bay State’s most *data-driven* districts. In fact we recently encountered them as they said *thanks, but no thanks* to what they say is an obsessive fixation on assessments in the Salem, MA public schools. The parents, citing the state’s *you can’t, but then again you can* position on parent opt-out rights, argued that their kids should be able to refuse, not just the main event test, but the practice tests that eat up an increasing amount of time in data-driven districts. In other words, who do they think they are???

Russell 1

 Slippery slope
In other words, we have a full-blown case of *philosophical issues* on our hands, which as anyone who is anyone knows, can only end one place: at the bottom of a slippery slope—or in a brawl in the Whole Foods parking lot. Lawyer for the state, canst thou advise on this matter?

ANet refuse

And an escalating situation
In other, other words, this slope is even more slipperier than it first appeared. What’s next for these children who are trapped in the middle, armed only with their hemp lunch sacks? And what right have these parents to try extend their *non-existent* right? Parents: you need to wake up and smell the mandatory-ness. What’s that? You say you don’t believe in mandatory bedtimes or alarm clocks either? I’m afraid I’m going to need some additional clarification on this matter. PS: apologies in advance. No, not to you, tiresome parents. Apologies to yet another dude whose time you are a’ wasting.



An evolving position
One other big problem with parents with philosophical issues: they tend to be hard to shake. And these parents proved to be no exception. When their district-level requests went nowhere, they followed the path laid out in the state’s elaboration of parents’ *non-existent* opt-out rights and went to the school principal, who, under the terms of the state’s evolving position, may respond to the *lil refuseniks’* refusals by giving them something else to do, like read a book.

ANet refuse 2

And now for an important update
The parents prevailed in the battle of *philosophical issues* vs. *evolving position*; the kids will be sitting out state tests this spring, as well as a long winter’s worth of practice tests. As father Stephen Croft told the school committee last year, other parents *need to know that they have the right to refuse these tests.*  In the meantime, as testing time hurtles ever nearer, diagnostic testing continues with a frenzy in districts across the state. By the way: students attending Boston schools that have shelled out $30K a piece for ANet testing still have to take the district’s own predictive tests. Here’s how one teacher described what these diagnostic days look like for her elementary students: *next week my students are required to take 3 standardized tests (1 ELA ANET, 1 ELA BPS predictive, and 1 Math BPS predictive. Crazy, huh?* Indeed.

Send tips, comments and FOIA’d documents to


  1. While I admit to being amused by administrators running around writing memos and wringing their hands, keeping them from their important work of “walk-throughs” and “collaborating with parents”–the thing that struck me most in your excellent documentary was all the spelling errors and missing punctuation. Theirs, not yours. Onward and upward.

    1. Clearly this data-driven district has some serious problems. Me thinks an intervention is not just necessary, but fiercely urgent! There’s a humorous part II to this story. Salem is well on its way to becoming the reformiest district in Massachusetts, thanks to an all-star edupreneurial cast. The current superintendent is on his way out, and a data-driven successor (and the founder of the local high performing charter school) was about to be installed, when it was discovered that Salem has an anti-corruption ordinance that bars elected officials from taking city jobs. Reading comprehension strikes again!

  2. It’s interesting that ANet gets copied on the letter from legal. Apart from their monetary interest, why are they in this? This is a concern only for the school system, not for businesses which make money from it.

  3. It’s so sad to see how incredibly limited school superintendents are these days. The emphasis on data and standardized tests hasn’t only dumbed down the students and teachers, but the administrators as well. The day of superintendents being true educators, people who had significant teaching experience and a real vision before they got the job, is over. Now, we get people with a couple of years of admin experience, people with no real vision beyond tests, people who would be better off in the corporate world than in education.

    1. I talked with my asst. super and she sounded like a PR person for PARCC (mind you our school chose NOT to do PARCC this year). I shared with her the thoughtful statement from her colleagues, the coalition of superintendents in Western, MA, and she responded that our district is “highly successful” and she is aware of what is happening in “the western part of the state”. Really disturbing that she doesn’t care about the bigger picture, that both the MCAS and PARCC and the associated test prep are harming the education all public school children are getting in MA and narrowing how well teachers are able to do their jobs.

  4. There are many reasons to love the work EduShyster does but sentences like “… What’s next for these children who are trapped in the middle, armed only with their hemp lunch sacks?” is right at the top of my list. The issues and your skewering of the hypocrisy are dead serious and your analysis is spot on.

    Your humor makes fighting stupidity fun.

    1. Thanks so much, sister in the struggle! It was so nice to see you the other night. Speaking of having fun whilst fighting stupidity 🙂

  5. We should all thank whatever version of the Freedom of Information Act exists in whatever state we’re in for allowing us to know what people-in-power would prefer we didn’t.

    Your points on the content and philosophical arguments are well made, as usual. But what really got my attention were the number of grammatical and spelling errors:
    – legal “council”? – How did you pass administrator school?
    – “Just so your clear on this.” – Oh, good grief.
    – “Interfer” – Huh?
    – “Other student’s work” – Just one other kid? Really?

    1. …appropriate response to: A) inform…thereof); B) treat…
      question; C) mock…officials; or, D) hope…blogger…

  6. I like how they just assume that it’s “their parents action” [sic], and not the school’s action, that is putting the kids in the middle of the debate.

  7. Let’s at least use accurate grammar:
    “”Just so your clear on this”…. Steve”

  8. This was already a ton of testing–how are the kids going to have time for anything else now that they’ve missed so much school due to snow!

  9. JLBD makes a good point: Quality administrators are hard to find these days, more and more of them are mean and dimwitted.

  10. Looks like the supt. and his DESE friends couldn’t pass a standardized test in basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Guess only the kids need to master standard writing conventions.

Comments are closed.