Good afternoon.

Please be advised that I do not permit my children to participate in the NJ ASK or any other standardized testing for state report cards and NCLB/RTTT accountability. I believe that this kind of testing is, at best, counter-productive and perhaps even harmful to my children’s education and development. My position is based on my conscientious objection to the State of New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Education employing an early 20th Century assessment model, which reflects the goals, aspirations and knowledge of that time, in order to make high-stakes decisions about the effectiveness of teaching, learning, and schooling today.  This kind of high-stakes testing is not based on what we know about teaching and learning in 2012, nor can it prepare our children for the demands of the 21st Century. The State of New Jersey and the USDOE overstep their bounds and do a disservice to the public when they ignore professionals in local schools by arbitrarily making high-stakes educational decisions based on standardized tests.  Finally, this absurd emphasis on standardized testing depletes valuable tax dollars that could otherwise be spent on improving and supporting teaching and learning.

As a parent and a 26-year veteran NYC public school educator, my children’s development as life-long learners is a top priority.  Educators know that assessment is either for learning or assessment is of learning.  Assessments (or “testing”) should always generate feedback that students can apply to their future learning.  Professionally, we know that assessment for accountability is wrong.  The NJ ASK gives the Ridgewood Public Schools no information that they don’t already have.  Ridgewood parents and residents insist on excellent public schools. Our local government and our democratic electoral process ensure that we consistently have high performing schools.

In urban areas such as Newark, Jersey City, Camden, Paterson, and New York City, high stakes testing for the purpose of school and school district accountability dooms the most needy students to months of intellectually bankrupt classroom experience.  The curriculum narrows in order to ensure that students can respond correctly to multiple-choice questions or formulaic short answer and essay questions.  Timed, one-chance tests subject all children to the perceived possibility of humiliation and failure. This pressure to perform scars children and robs them of their natural curiosity and innate desire to learn.  In fact, our current understanding of the neuroscience of learning indicates strongly that the environment created by high-stakes testing actually inhibits learning.  No Child Left Behind, including New Jersey’s current waiver from the sanctions of that legislation, fails to improve educational outcomes for students.  Ironically, it leaves increased numbers of “minority” subgroups and economically disadvantaged students even further behind.

My children have had a wonderful experience at both Orchard School and George Washington Middle School.  In fact, I too, am a product of the Ridgewood Public Schools.  As a result of the strong educational foundation established here in Ridgewood, I was able to attend two of our nation’s finest post secondary institutions in order to pursue my dreams.  Personally and professionally, I must stand with the thousands of courageous parents, schoolteachers and administrators across our nation who are boycotting high stakes testing.  By opting out of standardized testing, we will deny the USDOE the data that supports its ill-conceived agenda for education reform.  Together we will work to improve public education for all students based on current educational and scientific research. As citizens, it is our responsibility to save our public schools.


Jean McTavish


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15 thoughts on “Educator and Parent Opts Out in New Jersey”

  1. Dina Sipiora on April 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm said:Excellent letter! In Rockford, IL (RPSD205) we seem to be experiencing the opposite-we have courageous parents and community members but our teachers seem to not be willing to stand up and say NO to high stakes testing. IT is very disheartening. Last year I instructed both of my children to opt out of testing, when they explained to their teachers that I had given them permission to refuse to take the test ( I even sent a note!); I received numerous phone calls from the schools. Finally I caved in and allowed my children to be subjected to 5 days of useless testing. Thank you for the wonderful letter on behalf of ALL students.

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  2. Rachel Castria on May 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm said:HOW do I have my child opt out?? Is that illegal?

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  3. Jean McTavish on May 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm said:The 14th amendment protects our right to determine what happens to our kids during the school day. I demand that my children learn and are educated not test prepped and trained to get high scores on a bubble test. The school officials in my town threatened me with truancy charges, but decided not to pursue them. The superintendent told me that on a basic level, he agrees with me. Any educator with an ounce of integrity and experience will tell you that our current system of accountability is wrong. We have to stand together, face the the corporate reformers who are trying to turn profits off our children’s education and say NO!

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    • Jim on April 24, 2013 at 11:29 am said:Jean – My 13 year old daughter has been having some difficulties recently as a result of low self esteem, anxiety, and depression. She has been taken out of school and is going to a center full time to try and help her with these issues. Her teachers and guidance counselor have been great since she left school about a month ago but yesterday we received a call from the curriculam person who said that she will have to complete the NJASK test at our home with a person monitoring her. Our daughter already has enough anxiety about returning to school let alone taking a test that determines state funding for her school. Not sure how I can go about getting her exempt from this test. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

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  4. colinjt on June 3, 2012 at 7:42 am said:How sad to see what we have to look forward to here in Australia, given our history of following whatever happens in the UK and USA. New Zealand is also going down this path. It certainly takes some skill to continue working with our students despite these impositions. In the end, it is how we work with our kids every day that ultimately counts.

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  5. Jean McTavish on June 4, 2012 at 1:14 am said:It is sad. If you can, start organizing now to fight back. The corporate reformers come on fast and furiously.

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  6. NJMom on June 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm said:Jean, thank you for this letter. I’m a RHS grad too and have certainly benefited from that excellent educational base. I live in a neighboring town now and have a middle school child with special needs. It’s been a battle (that we have always lost) to not have her sit through NJASK. She is mainstreamed with an aide, but is years behind academically. I’m always told that NJDOE considers any mainstreamed child to have been “exposed” to grade level material and therefore must take the test (it’s also this reason she doesn’t qualify for alternative assessment). This is especially ridiculous for the math portion. She’s doing 3rd grade math but must endure a 7th grade level test. Why??? We know the outcome. She’s “not proficient.” It gives new meaning to everyone’s favorite teenager saying, “Well, d’uh.” And so it continues. Every year it’s the same “not proficient.” How is that “information” helping her? The district? The state?

    So, thanks, again, for this. I feel better armed for the annual IEP discussion on testing.

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  7. Andrea on June 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm said:I have no problem at all with children being exposed to failure. Being able to fail in a way that allows a child to correct and learn from mistakes is essential to learning and to development of a healthy resilience. Of course, high stakes testing does not allow children to fail in a productive way. As you have carefully explained, high stakes testing also comes at the expense of precious resources that could be used toward a better purpose. This is the single most compelling argument I have found to oppose high stakes testing.

    As a mental health professional, I have worked in several settings that exposed me to young adults who represent the first generation of kids exposed to high stakes testing as we know it today. I see little evidence that testing itself is traumatic for most students. Were it only an annual standardized test, and business as usual the rest of the school year, I would not be so concerned. But, of course, it is not just one long day out of the year, and so the damage is far more insidious and ingrained into how many school districts operate. Many young adults, by the time they reach college and even post-graduate education, have learned that it is more important to get the right answer on a test than to have a true depth of knowledge. They struggle to become active participants in their own learning because this is a foreign concept. And some of them crumple under the pressure of having to solve complex problems that require more than simply looking up the answers. In this sense, even failure itself is cheapened. Failure just means “I forgot” or “I didn’t study that part of the chapter.” Failure, a useful experience for everyone in modest quantities, is depersonalized and externalized to the extent that it discourages truly knowing one’s own ignorance.

    On that point, we have to be careful to practice what we preach. In our social media-enabled world it is too easy to retweet a claim without investigating it for ourselves and applying those critical thinking skills that aren’t so easily assessed. We can lay claim to knowledge of learning theory and neuroscience without having to back this up with any sort of true understanding or nuance. The seductive process of groupthink, which in part got us into this mess, can rapidly undermine the credibility of those who do oppose high stakes testing on a solid grounds.

    I applaud your efforts to question the practices of your local school district and school districts all over the country and I challenge you to continue the conversation with new ideas, popular or not.

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  8. Lisa on September 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm said:Excellent letter~ it inspires me and my desire to optout my own children from these standardized test. I received my 1st graders school schedule for the year today and a 50 minute class period that was once alloted for art is now devoted to NJASK Prep. I quote a dear friend, “What are we doing to our children?”

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  9. Jennifer on March 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm said:Chistopher Tienken just published a book that researched the argument for the CCSS. He finds that the argument for national implementation of CCSS is not statistically significant and is instead connected to a neoliberal agenda of politicians and business leaders. There is an inverse correlation between scoring high on international tests and creativity. Standards and accountability measures are the largest social experiment in history that is not researched based, but driven by special interests. I’m in Hillsborough and committed to free and independent schools. Please keep me posted of action. Greenerorangesllc@gmail.com

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  10. Linda on April 5, 2013 at 5:12 pm said:Is there a standard letter I can obtain to send to my NJ school for my son to opt out of NJASK this year.

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  11. DLS on April 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm said:I was wondering if anyone can help me to get my son exempt. I have contacted the school and proven he gets migraines from stress. He has been to the school nurse 5 times in the last 2 weeks and the school is denying my request for exemption. They have informed me that if I keep him home for the testing and the makeup week he will just be required to do the test later. any suggestions?

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  12. Amy Wojaczyk on May 9, 2013 at 2:13 am said:We are in South Amboy, NJ. This week is the week that the NJ ASK is being administered in 5th grade…where my daughter is a student. I have been questioning what is being taught in the classroom for several months after learning that all tests that were being administered were “open book” tests. What made that matter worse, is that they were being graded on a curve. When I made the call to question what was being done in the classroom, I was told that it was being handled that way to better prepare the children for the NJ ASK. The issue obviously goes beyond NJ ASK preparation when we have teachers who can’t even do that properly and are covering it up by grading on a curve.

    When the issue was recently brought to the principal and I voiced that I wanted my daughter to not participate in the NJ ASK test, I was told that was not an option. It would be viewed as an unexcused absence and would hold her back from any opportunity to participate in future honors programs.

    Now, mind you, I’m not opting out because my daughter doesn’t score well on the test. In fact, for the past 2 years, she scored perfectly in Math and extremely high in Language Arts. I am opting out because the students simply are not learning. Every minute of class is being spent to prepare them for the test. Students are being threatened that if they do poorly on the test, they can be held back in their grade.

    When you have a High Honor Roll student coming home crying because of the stress that she is under in class due to a standardized test…you’ve got a problem. My daughter has been out sick all week (with a doctor’s note to support her absence) and after school today, I received a 24 page, double sided, packet of “make up work” for her to complete. All 48 pages are based on NJ ASK preparation. Is she now being punished for not being in school? It certainly seems so!

    Please help! I simply don’t know what direction to turn!

    We have a school board meeting coming up on Monday night, May 13. I will be at that meeting voicing my concerns. If anyone can offer any advice to boost my case, I would greatly appreciate it!

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Educator and Parent Opts Out in New Jersey

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