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Peggy Robertson is an educator in Aurora, Colo., who has been a sharp critic of high-stakes standardized testing. Robertson, a teacher and literacy coach, has taught in elementary schools in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, and spent several years training teacher leaders and administrators in educational theory and practice. She is a co-founder of United Opt Out, a national organization advocating for the rights of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests and against the privatization of public education. She blogs at pegwithpen.com as well as at www.corave.org, where a version of this post appeared.

In this post, Robertson explains why she has decided to refuse to administer what is known as the PARCC test, a Common Core-aligned test being designed by one of two multi-state consortia that are working with $360 million in federal funds to create new standardized exams. PARCC refers to the official name of the consortium, which is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Robertson is one of a small but seemingly growing number of teachers who have decided to refuse to administer standardized tests to their students and who have come out publicly explaining why. A Florida teacher recently wrote a letter posted on Facebook to the parents of her students explaining why she was refusing to give a particular test to her kindergarteners, and a few days later, the Florida Education Department suspended the test (although it didn’t mention the teacher in its announcement).

It is risky for teachers to refuse to administer a mandated test; they can lose their jobs. But some are doing it anyway as a protest against the number and importance of standardized tests in today’s education reform.

Here is Robertson’s letter  addressed to the “citizens of Colorado.”

Citizens of Colorado, I address this letter to you, because you are my community, my people. You have the power to shift the momentum in our public schools, where our students are increasingly being taught to the test under the intense high-stakes conditions created via Race to the Top. Meanwhile, child poverty is ignored. I send this letter to you because I have made attempts to have a dialogue with the decision-makers. I have spoken with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, I have written to President Obama, and I have spoken in front of the Colorado Legislative Education Committee, all to no avail. So, I address this letter to you, in the hopes that my words and my actions will create momentum across our beautiful state for the children of  Colorado.  Thank you.

Dear Citizens of Colorado,

I am a teacher in the Aurora Public School District. I am writing to let you know that I will be refusing to administer the PARCC in the 2014-2015 school year. I do not stand alone in my refusal of this high-stakes test. I join the ranks of educators across the country who are fighting back against policies and mandates that ultimately harm our children and destroy our children’s opportunities to become confident, active, problem solving citizens.

I have watched the testing increase over my 18 years of teaching in the public schools. I have watched what it has done to my ability to meet children’s needs and to allow children the opportunities to engage in learning that is authentic – learning that furthers the purpose of these children’s lives. This year, in particular, I am watching an onslaught of Common Core curriculum infiltrate our schools, along with additional tests and test prep to add to the test load which permeates every minute of every school day.  I hear again and again that I should find the “good” in this curriculum and make the best of it. I am a literacy coach, therefore, I work with many teachers and children in our building. I believe our children deserve better than simply, my ability to find the “good” in this Common Core test prep curriculum. I believe our children deserve what President Obama’s children have at Sidwell [Friends School in Washington D.C.], where teachers have autonomy to teach without scripted Common Core curriculum and common core high stakes testing.  I take objection to the fact that our children are being used as guinea pigs in an experiment to implement standards which were never field tested, are copyrighted, were not created using a democratic process, and were not created with the serious input of classroom teachers. Furthermore, the Common Core standards have placed unrealistic expectations on our youngest learners, many who now view themselves as failures because they are unable to meet the developmentally inappropriate expectations set by the Common Core standards.

I also refuse to administer the PARCC because I believe that participation in such testing gives the test credibility – of which it has none. The PARCC test was designed to assess the Common Core standards, which are not grounded in research, nor are they internationally benchmarked. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the Common Core standards, Common Core curriculum and Common Core testing, will in any way close the achievement gap. It will do the opposite. By funneling all of our tax dollars to corporations for curriculum, tests and technology to implement the test, we have ignored the elephant standing in the middle of the room – the number of homeless school children in Colorado, which has more than tripled in the last decade.  The poverty rate of black children stands at approximately 40 percent while the poverty rate of  Latino children is approximately 30 percent. Colorado also has the third fastest growing rate of childhood poverty in the nation. We know quite clearly that children who have quality nutrition, healthcare, as well as access to books via libraries with certified librarians, and all the other resources provided to children in particular zip codes, actually, have done quite well on standardized tests in the past. Yet, we continue to ignore this fact, and we continue to feed our children living in poverty only tests. In order to pay for these tests, technology, and curriculum, we strip our schools of much needed resources such as books, small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors and more. Closing the achievement gap requires closing the resource gap.

As we consider closing the achievement gap, it’s important to recognize that New York has administered Common Core tests two years in a row, both years resulting in approximately a 70 percent failure rate state-wide. Our achievement gap is increasing. And we continue to funnel our money away from the schools and directly into the pockets of profiteers.

I am responsible for making pedagogical decisions to support the learning of students and adult learners on a daily basis; the state and federal mandates currently in place hamper my ability to do what is best for learners. There are better ways to assess children. Currently, the assessments being used assess only narrow learning, derived through continual test prep in our classrooms. They assess what matters least, and such learning will not create innovative thinkers or citizens who can salvage our democracy.

I believe that refusing PARCC is the first step in taking down the Common Core boondoggle … and in saving our profession, which is being hijacked in numerous ways by those who know a lot about increasing profit, but who know nothing about teaching children.

Our children are not gaining from the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing; instead, I see corporations profiting immensely, along with politicians and various other individuals who have jumped on the Common Core train. The link between the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing is inextricable…. Public education is the new cash cow; privatization is the end goal. We must begin to take down this profit machine by beginning with the data the corporations so dearly love. No data. No profit. I will not hand over Colorado’s children (and their data) to the corporations via federal mandates.

I encourage everyone who stands with me to sign in the comment section below. I also encourage everyone to share the letter with national and state leaders.  However, I do not believe that change will come from the top, which is why I have addressed this letter to you, the citizens of Colorado. We must be the change.  Sometimes change requires risk.

I must do right by the children of Colorado and the teachers of Colorado, therefore, I refuse to administer the PARCC.

Peggy Robertson
Public School Teacher
Aurora, Colorado