Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PA: Opt Out Bill Proposed

PA House Bill 1634 is as short as it is sweet. It adds the following language to the section of PA law that require the Keystone exams (our own version of the Big Standardized Test).

(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no child may be required to take a Keystone Exam if the parent or guardian of the child notifies in writing the superintendent or chief administrator that the parent or guardian wishes for the child not to take the Keystone Exam.

(c) No student may be penalized by a school district, the State Board of Education or the  Commonwealth for failing to take a Keystone Exam if the parent or guardian of the child has provided notice under subsection (b).

(d) No student may be required to take a Keystone Exam as a condition for high school graduation.

Currently, Pennsylvania families can opt out of testing only for religious reasons. The state cannot ask you what your religious reasons are, and so the effect is that PA parents can opt out any time they want to. But this makes the opt-out less equivocal, and it reduces parents' need to stand up for their principles by lying about their principles (The test makes me want to holler "God damn it" so, it's kind of a religious objection).

Most important is d), a can that the state has nudged down the road a bit, but which is still definitely in our future. That, combined with our growing insistence that students with special needs take an unmodified Keystone, promises a diploma-denying catastrophe down the road. And of course the use of BS Tests as a grad requirement insures that the lowest functioning students will be denied any education except an endless volley of test prep. Making BS Tests a grad requirement guarantees that for the most vulnerable students, school will no longer be about preparing them for life as fully-function full-grown. For them, school will be the place you go to get prepared to take a single test.

Now that you're excited, let me point out that A) this is a bill in the PA House of Representatives, which like most Houses of Representatives, floats DOA legislative ideas every day, and twice on Sunday and B) it has currently been sent to the Education Committee, a black hole from which it may never return.

Still, it has been written, and it is out there, and if enough people made a fuss to their representatives, maybe it will make a difference.

Opt Out PA has kindly provided the contact information for all the members of the education committee, and here is a handy email address block that you can copy and paste into an email to these folks:

So step on up and get your two cents in. Encourage the PA legislature to do their part to lessen the impact of these tests on public education and to give parents a vital tool in making their voices heard. As always, one of the most damaging parts of the reform movement is the silencing of parent and community voices. A bill that lets parents speak up about testing abuse and frees students and schools from an unhealthy focus on a single big (not very good) test for graduation-- that's a good bill.

Make some noise.


  1. I would broaden (d) to say no student can be required to take any standardized test for graduation. As it's written now, it would be all too easy to just adopt a different test.

    I would also add an (e) that no teacher or school can be in any way penalized for parental opt out choices.

  2. My email has been sent. Thank you for sharing.