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District investigating school with 20% opt-out rate

Photo: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Your browser does not support the audio tag. Parents of about 100 students at North Philadelphia’s Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences have signed letters withdrawing their children from standardized tests.

Now the Philadelphia School District is investigating whether those parents "have been fully informed," according to District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Who’s opting out

The parents at Feltonville are a part of a growing regional and national opt-out movement, with footholds in suburban New Jersey as well as big-city districts like Chicago and Los Angeles.

In November, members of Philadelphia City Council held a hearing on standardized testing, and Council members Mark Squilla, Jannie Blackwell and Maria Quinones-Sanchez all signed a letter in support of Feltonville’s opting-out parents last week.

These and other supporters of the opt-out movement highlight the fact that all students – regardless of whether they are English language learners or have special education needs – take the same tests. That means that students known to perform below their grade level are still evaluated in their grade.

This brings down both individual evaluations and cumulative evaluations of schools that serve a lot of high-needs students, according to opt-out supporters.

"’English language learners by definition don’t know English," said Feltonville teacher Vici Smith. "They’re two, three four levels behind. And then they’re told about their failures, then the school is labeled as a failure."

According to Feltonville’s Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, about 20 percent of its students are ELL.

Over the last several months, members of the Caucus of Working Educators, a faction within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, held meetings to share information about opting-out with parents tied to schools across Philadelphia.

Parents at the Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences also received a form letter explaining that they may opt their children out of standardized tests like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, or PSSAs, as well as internal tests like benchmarks.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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