This courageous Op-Ed by 7th grade student Charlize Valentin, was shared with permission by her English teacher at East Side Community High School. Please share widely:
As parents consider the effects of opting their child out of state tests, one question that comes up frequently is What will my child be doing while her classmates take the tests? When one of my 7th grade students decided with her family that she wanted to opt out, she told me that she wanted to explain to others why she made that choice. While her classmates bubbled in multiple choice answers and constructed five-paragraph essays, Charlize spent her time examining the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, and researching, planning, and drafting the piece below. I could not be prouder of the choice Charlize has made, more confident of her growth as a student this year, or more certain that this piece of writing says far more about what she is capable of than a state test ever could. -Nicole Dixon, teacher at East Side Community High School
by Charlize Valentin, 7th grader
“What am I doing? What are we doing?” I thought to myself in the middle of taking the 2014 English Language Arts Common Core standardized test. My teacher had just finished saying that before and after these tests we weren’t allowed to talk about any questions we had or anything the test had brought up. Teachers aren’t allowed to talk about the tests with their students, or even to give their opinion about these tests. At that moment I began to think, “What are these tests turning our schools into? Since when did our schools become such a ‘Hunger Games’ like setting?” I began to think these tests are turning our schools into a futuristic dystopian setting, where teachers and children are afraid to go against these tests. A dystopian setting where if teachers even mention that they simply do not agree with these tests, they fear that could lose their jobs. But just like in every other dystopian novel you’ve read, there’s always that one spark. That one little outlet for hope. And for schools and children these days, our one little spark for hope against these standardized tests is the newly found option of opting out.
In New York state this year, over 30,000 children have made the choice with their parents or guardians to opt out of these standardized tests. This week during the state math test, I became one of the 30,000.
For me, the worrying about these tests began in October in the beginning of my 7th grade year. Everything about the tests worried me. As students, we heard, “Fail this test and you will have to get held back this year” or “Fail this test and you’ll have to attend summer school.” And when I asked about opting out most teachers simply would tell me they did not know much about this option. From the months of October to April I could feel myself beginning to make myself physically and mentally sick. I became so anxious that sometimes I’d simply sit and cry, thinking to myself, “I’m a good student. Just not a good test taker. Why should these tests created by then graded by people that don’t even know me as a student determine whether or not I got held back this year?” Each day a new anger and thought of rebellion against these tests began to build. And every day I thought, “This just isn’t fair.”
As ironic as this may sound, the day before the kids in my school, East Side Community High School, were let out for winter break, our English teacher assigned us practice articles to read for homework to prepare for the upcoming ELA state test. What I soon came to learn was that the articles she gave to us were all about the debate on whether or not these standardized tests were beneficial to us. And even greater, what I soon came to learn about from those articles was the option of opting out. After reading all of those articles, I gave all of them to my mom trying to explain opting out. Little did I know that she had already been looking into this option, and learning about other parents who opted their children out of these standardized tests. She then showed to me these articles about other kids who opted out and why they opted out. And I understood that what I had been stressing over and thinking about for so long already had a call to action given by thousands of other kids and parents all around New York, and that I wasn’t alone. Other kids felt the way I did too. This was more than just a couple of kids and parents in a disagreement with these test makers, it was thousands of kids, teachers and parents finally wanting their voice to be heard. And their voice was saying – “This is not what school is about. What’s in these tests is not what our schools should be focusing on. Our kids are not robots, neither are their teachers. So why are we being treated and being tested on as if we are?”
In my English class this year, we are taught to express ourselves through our writing, to have our voice be heard, to explore new topics and genres, and most importantly, to question why is this the way it is or why is that the way it is. In my school, children are taught to question, and we are taught to express our individuality and creativity through our school work. But that is not the criteria these tests are based on. These simply want us to read a two-page story then a write a four-paragraph essay on what we read. That’s it. No original claim, no deeper thinking and of course, no opinion. How are these tests in any way supposed to show what we learned throughout the course of the year? How are these tests supposed to show the hard work and days and hours our teachers go through just to plan lessons so that when we leave class, we are leaving with a mind that wants to question the unknown? But of course, this is not what these tests are asking us to show. Are they really asking us to show anything we learned at all?
I just want to ask, do you not find it alarming that in America 1 out of every 5 children do not know when their next meal is going to be, but all children are completely certain about when their next standardized test is going to be? Is this really what our state is spending its money on? Spending money on tests that only worry and frighten kids, and force kids to think like everyone else instead of themselves? I guess so…
I hope that after reading this, you come to understand that these tests are not fair. And children do not want to be forced to take these tests anymore. Teachers, kids and parents are fed up with being treated as robots and test-monkeys due to these tests. I also hope you understand that myself and over 30,000 kids across the state are opting out, not because we fear these tests are hard and that we can’t do it, but because we have a voice too. And our voice is saying enough is enough. This isn’t fair and we won’t stand for these tests anymore. I hope that after reading this and even after doing more research about this topic, you find your voice saying the same thing too.