We're Texans and for us, that means we have the freedom to home educate our children with little restriction save that we conduct our schooling in a "bona fide manner, using a written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, math and a course in good citizenship; no other requirements apply." So for most of our older daughter's lives, that's what we've done.
A couple of years back, our oldest began attending local charter schools and taking the state mandated tests as a part of that schooling. I did not think too much about the tests because that child's learning style and personality made her very successful at them. I really didn't give them much thought at all.
Then last year, in an effort to assuage my doubts about whether or not I was providing adequate instruction to our second oldest, then entering 7th grade, I decided to enroll her in an on-line public charter school. It was her idea, really. She loves on-line anything (as amply evidenced by her gabbiness on Facebook) and she was excited by the challenge.
She loved it last year, she truly did. She enjoyed the work but also loved being at home and having control over her schedule. She has gotten As and Bs, both this year and last. It worked well with her ADD and need to move around and frequently switch tasks. She loved it, that is, until the state mandated tests came around. She did very poorly on those tests. Parents are not allowed to see the tests; we are only told if our child passes or fails, so my ability to help her was limited. She has above average intelligence; we paid almost $2,000 of our own money to have her tested and the result was the ADD diagnosis. She's smart -- but has memory challenges and these tests and the method of administration are very difficult for her.
The school responded by placing her in extra classes to prepare her for the tests. She has to take an extra English and an extra math class, in addition to the two all 8th graders are taking. The knowledge of last year's tests coupled with the extra classes has had a devastating effect on her self-esteem. A formerly happy confident child is now frequently calling herself stupid. When January rolled around and spring weather dropped in, her thoughts turned to tests and she began to worry and fret.
So I did what any parent would do, I explored our options. It turns out there are few. After much research, I wrote the school explaining that she would not be appearing for her test days. Few (if any) of my friends would consider me a radical. Yet I am willing to stand against the status quo when necessary. It was necessary.
My knees were literally knocking as I mailed the letter. I had explained to both child and Dear Hubby that the consequence might be that the school asked her to leave.
Today, that is exactly what happened. The principal, who was both warm and courteous when she telephoned me, explained that in order to continue to be funded, they need 95% compliance in state mandated tests; it is hard to meet that 95% just due to truly unavoidable absences. Because the school is "housed" in Houston ISD, our daughter is considered a transfer, so their acceptance of her is voluntary. Therefore, if we are unwilling to take her to the tests, they must respectfully request that we withdraw her. It was clear that I should act on this "voluntarily."
I thanked her and told her that we had enjoyed the school and respected her teachers. I understood their predicament but we were firm on our stand against the testing. Therefore, we would be withdrawing her.
My child was thrilled. I am still a little wobbly kneed. I am sure getting out of "public school" is what's best for her. What I wonder is, what are my next steps? If our "bright" child struggles so much with these tests, how are they affecting other kids who parents cannot offer them homeschooling as on option? Do parents even realize the difference between the tests today and even a decade a year ago? Since the tests are tied to both grade point and grade promotion, are they helping or contributing to the drop out rate? As an advocate for children, is there more for me to do?
I don't have answers to these questions just now -- but they are certainly food for thought. If you are interested in reading the letter, you can find it here.