This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Parents in some suburban Philadelphia school districts are opting out of standardized tests in previously unseen numbers. One test, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) starts today.
"The number of parents who are requesting to see the exam has gone up 1,000, 2,000 percent, compared to previous years," said Lower Merion School District acting Superintendent Wagner Marseilles. The district requires parents to view the tests before signing a document requesting to opt out their kids.
Just how many kids? Marseilles said an exact number is not available, but is "close to 200," up from about a dozen last year. And he expects that number to rise.
"We’ve had incidents of parents showing interest in not having their kids take the test the morning of the exam," said Marseilles. Last year, about 1,000 students across Pennsylvania sat out the PSSAs.
The parents’ reasons — loss of instruction time, stress on students — echo some concerns of the nationwide opt-out movement, according to Marseilles.
But the reality of testing in an affluent district with high-performing schools is different than in urban districts, where tests raise the specter of school closings.
‘We wanted moms to get angry’
Margene Biederman of Lower Merion is opting her two children, a 4th grader and an 8th grader, out of the PSSAs.
A couple of years ago, Biederman said, she learned art and music instruction were getting cut back in her children’s elementary schools. So she said, "I got involved with a group of parents that were concerned about the connection between … using more of the school day to prepare for standardized tests and cutting back on areas of education that addressed children’s physical and emotional developmental needs."
To raise awareness, some of the parents screened Standardized Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing Is Ruining Public Education, a movie by Berks County English teacher Daniel Hornberger, at a church in Bryn Mawr earlier this year.