Forum discusses having students skip standardized tests

The Detroit News

Detroit — Participants at a community meeting Monday night discussed having parents opt out of standardized testing as a way to fight the possible closure of city schools.

About 20 people gathered at the Parkman Branch Library on the city’s west side for the event headed by the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools movement. Activists launched the group last year as a response “to the crisis in public education brought on by the state’s destructive policies of emergency management,” according to a pamphlet distributed at the meeting.

The discussion focused on citywide education as well as practices coordinators believe can affect access for local youth.

“We have to be advocates for our students,” said Salima Ellis, an educator with Universal Mind Freedom School who volunteers with the group that coordinated the gathering. “If we don’t advocate for them, who will? We have to stand up for them.”

The Detroit Public Schools Community District sued the state in March in an attempt to block forced closure of up to 24 poor-performing local schools.

The schools identified among up to 38 statewide eyed to close in a School Reform Office review had performed in the bottom 5 percent for at least three consecutive years, according to the state education department.

District officials argued they deserved a three-year reprieve after state legislation created the new Detroit school district to free it from old debts.

Detroit and other districts have signed “partnership agreements” with the state this spring to turn around the schools without closing them. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston offered the option days after Kalamazoo and Saginaw public schools first sued the state over potential closures.

Activists at Monday night’s meeting insisted that continued reliance on assessments tied to performance is unfair since the test results do not necessarily reflect students’ abilities or comprehension.

They also argued that funding for specific schools programs that could boost their mastery had been significantly cut over the years.

Aurora Harris, an advocate for students with special needs and a former DPS parent, argued that families can opt not to have their children take tests she believes are “ not geared for” everyone.

“It’s like a one-size-fits-all type” of testing, she told attendees. “It causes a lot of anxiety.”

The meeting participants heard an overview of ways to opt out, including an affidavit and a signed letter addressed to the school principal.

They also learned about community-based initiatives such as “freedom” schools, proposed as measures to enhance education in the city.

The information was helpful for attendees such as Tom Howe of Detroit. “It seems like a good defense against austerity measures toward our schools,” he said.