James D. Kirylo

There is a hurricane of another form configuring across the United States, and the outer bands of this massive storm are starting to be felt in Louisiana. Unlike the tempests that stand as a threat on our coastlines during hurricane season, the winds of this storm are a welcomed sight, bringing much-needed fresh air to blow out the mildew that has been caking the halls of the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The powerful whirl of this wind is the formidable voices of the people — namely parents — who are opting out their children from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Indeed, the opt-out movement is an idea whose time has come. All over the country, and clearly spilling over into Louisiana, parents are pushing back on a so-called school reform effort that is more concerned about ratings, scores and percentages than the actual cognitive, social and cultural development of their children. School officials all over the state are now scrambling around trying to figure out what to do, yet many are stuck on a language of “reform” that permeates utter coldness. Whether it is coming from a measure of ill-informed local district board members across the state, an unqualified state superintendent of education or condescending BESE members, the conversations are not about what is best for our children; rather, the central focus of the rhetoric is on how opting out affects inanimate items such as school scores.

For numerous Louisianans, the issue here is not only the problematic PARCC assessment tool, which is symptomatic of a warped system, but rather, the critical concern is also the entire testing industrial complex overtaking what schooling has become. For example, third-graders are scheduled to take part I of PARCC in March, part II in May, and in April, iLEAP will be administered. This means that in a span of three months, 8-year-old children will be subjected to over 11 hours of standardized testing, which translates to more than I withstood throughout my entire K-12 schooling experience.

Of course, this does not include the months of testing practice, testing talk, and as we get closer to testing days, we will have balloon sendoffs, pep rallies, etc. Perhaps, as the thinking may be, if we have a standardized test pep rally, the child will be “motivated” to do well, and then the school will get a good grade. But it doesn’t stop there. We tell children to get enough sleep, eat right and frighten the daylights out of them on how important these tests are.

As a result of this manufactured environment, young children are unnecessarily under great stress, fearful, dealing with bouts of panic, crying spells, apathy, sleeplessness and depression. This plays havoc on their self-worth and motivation, ultimately equating that schooling is simply about passing a test, leading some to even drop out. And the most affected are the poor, the ones without a voice.

For the last approximate 20 years, Education Week publishes an annual Quality Counts State by State Report Card. What did Louisiana receive this year on K-12 Achievement? D- (49th in the nation). Every year for the past nearly two decades, the state of Louisiana has been hovering in that scoring range. And every year, we then predictably respond with more of the same mildewed mantra that obsessively focuses on preparing for standardized tests. Except each year, it becomes more heightened, more emphasized, more high-stakes and a whole lot sicker.

It is true that standardized testing has extraordinarily narrowed the curriculum, has even dumbed it down, compelling teachers to simply focus on prescribed areas of certain disciplines that will be tested. As a consequence, the arts in all its forms have greatly been deprived; the same for physical education; social studies and the sciences have received less attention; and, particularly for the very young, the idea of play and recess has been dismissed as frivolous.

In the end, we have two choices faced before us: We can continue to subject our children to a system that works to objectify their existence and hand over our trust to a multibillion-dollar testing industry or we can be a wind of fresh air, forcing a change in educational direction, beginning with joining the opt-out movement.

James D. Kirylo is a professor of education at Southeastern Louisiana University. His third-grader who attends a public school in Louisiana will opt out of PARCC. He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com.