Testing in the Schools
by John Holt
This article appeared in Growing Without Schooling Issue No. 4 p. 44. Copyright by Holt Associaties and reprinted here with permission.
These early issues of GWS are really worth owning. They are incorporated in the book, GROWING WITHOUT SCHOOLING: A RECORD OF A GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT, V. 1 Issues 1 - 12, Aug. 1977 - Dec. 1979. They can be purchased from John Holt's Bookstore: http://www.holtgws.com
Peter Perchemlides' case, Perchemlides v. Frizzle, was decided in 1978 in the Superior Court of Massachusetts. The decision was written by John M. Greany, now the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Portions of this decision were quoted in the recent Brunelle decision (1998).
Testing in the Schools
Peter Perchemlides of Amherst MA is fighting in the court against the local schools for the right to teach his child at home. Not long ago I wrote him, in part:
"Since the schools are demanding the right to judge your program, I think you have the right, as a citizen, taxpayer, and the parent of the child whose education they wish to control, to judge theirs. More specifically, I would like to suggest that under the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Act you demand, and if necessary go to court to get, answers to a number of questions about your local school system, including the following:
1) At the various grade levels, how many hours of school time are allotted each week to uninterrupted reading--that is uninterrupted by questions, corrections, or demands from teachers? In short, how much of just plain reading are students allowed to do at school? [Note: this kind of reading is called "SSR" in schools: sustained, silent reading. At least that was the term when my kids were elementary school age. NH]
2) At the various grade levels, how much time each week are students allowed in the school library? What restrictions are there on the use of the library itself, or on the borrowing of library books?
3) In addition to those in the school library, are there books (other than textbooks or workbooks) in the classroom? How many, and how chosen?
4) At the various grade levels, how many children are reading below grade level (both national and state)?
5) At the various grades, how many children are reading at least two years ahead of grade level? Since grade-level simply represents the national or state median, a serious parent would hardly consider it an acceptable standard for any child much more than eight years old.
6) Of the children reading below grade level two years ago, how many (among those still in the local schools) are now reading at grade level or better? In other words, how effective are the schools at improving the reading of students who are having trouble?
7) At each grade level, how many children have be designated as having 'learning disabilities?'
8) Of the children so designated two years ago, how many are now judged to be cured or freed of them? In other words, how successful are the schools in dealing with and overcoming these problems?
9) Same questions for 'emotionally disturbed.'
10) Same questions for 'hyperactive' or 'hyperkinetic.'
11) On the basis of what tests, of what duration, and administered, scored, and judged by whom, are these judgments about 'learning disabilities' etc. made?
12) To what degree are school records, including these judgments, and results of other school-given psychological tests, available to the scrutiny of the parents?
13) To what degree is it possible for parents who disagree with any such judgments to challenge them or seek independent confirmation of them, so as to be able to clear their children's records of possible incorrect and/or derogatory information?
14) At various grade levels, what percentage of children are being medicated with psychoactive or behavior modifying drugs, such as Ritalin? What medical examination do the schools give, and how often, and by what doctors, to check for possible harmful side effects of such drugs?
15) What is the policy of the schools about altering students grades for reasons of discipline or attendance? What percentage of students in the system have had their grades so lowered?
16) Where grades have been so lowered for such reasons, what provisions have been made for students and their parents to restore the correct academic grade to the student's record?
You might consider some kind of community-wide publicity about this case. I imagine some kind of public statement, perhaps a letter to the editor of a local paper, perhaps an ad, saying more or less, 'There is much talk these days about the family being the most important influence on a child's life. WE agree with this, and therefore want to understand the primary responsibility for the education of our child. The superintendent of schools of this district, Mr. …….. is trying to prosecute us as criminals because we want to do this, and is threatening to put us in jail and to deprive us of the custody of our child. To this end he seems willing to spend quite a bit of the taxpayers' money, which might be better spent in improving the quality of the local school.' And so on. You might ask those citizens who feel you should have the right to teach your own child to make this view known not only to you but to the Superintendent and the local School Board."
[End of letter] Holt continues:
These seem to me questions which people, whether unschoolers or not, might do well to ask in almost any school district. The schools' answers, or their refusal to answer, might in some instances make up a valuable part of the court case against the schools. Not all states will have Freedom of Information laws; you will have to check to find out. In states which do not, you might say something like this: since the courts have said, in two different jurisdictions, that people may not collect damages from schools because their children did not learn anything there, they have in effect established the rule of caveat emptor--let the buyer beware. This being so, the courts can hardly deny the buyer the right to ask questions about the product--schooling for his children--which in this case he is being compelled by law to buy. In some cases, at least, this argument may be enough to persuade a reluctant school system to answer your questions, or if not, to persuade a judge to tell them that they must.
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