Why I am Refusing the PARCC

An Open Letter to Teacher Coach

Next week the middle school students at my son’s school will be taking the PARCC.  He will not be one of them.  He will be sitting for two hours in the auditorium with a book and possibly a folder of some work he needs to make up from this marking period if he takes the initiative to collect it.  I have officially ‘refused’ the PARCC.

This is our first year in middle school and so far, it has been a wonderful experience.  The teachers are committed to student success.  They are quick to respond to any questions or concerns I have and work with my son to help him make the transition from elementary school.  He has been more excited about his classes than he ever was in elementary school. My journey to this decision was not an easy one.  Like many of my friends, I began the year with the intent to have my son test, despite his pleas for me to ‘get him out of this’.  He actually tends to enjoy standardized testing and doesn’t get anxious about the scores or grades.

However, as I began to read more about the PARCC and follow the debate, I became less willing to quietly sit by and let the drive for standardization eclipse the incredible creativity and dedicated teaching that makes my son’s school so special.  A grass-roots movement of families interested in refusing the PARCC has led to spirited and mostly respectful discussions amongst my parent friends and I am grateful to for the questions being raised by friends who will be allowing their children to test next week, as they help me consider my decision to refuse.

They wouldn’t be using this test if it wasn’t a good measurement.

The lack of transparency about the creation and intended scoring and use of this test has been a concern of mine.  Fewer than half of the original 24 states originally signed up for PARCC are still planning to use it.  These states have dropped out citing serious concerns about the test.  The development and implementation of this test has been funded by technology and testing companies, not educators and there has been no study of test validity (how well the test measures what it says it measures) for this test.  States are paying, and paying big, to be the test group for PARCC.

Critics of the format of the test cite problems with the question format and complexity of the test.  Specifically, some researchers have found that the Lexile measure of the test questions is 2 grade levels above the grade Lexile levels, leading some to argue that the test is deliberately intended to show failure.

I took those tests as a kid. They weren’t that disruptive.

This is not your mother’s Iowa Basic Skills class.  I remember coloring in those oval bubbles too.  The only ‘test prep’ we had back then was to eat a good breakfast and get a good night’s sleep.  And the test was not given to every grade, every year.

While the reported ‘total in-chair time’ for taking the PARCC is estimated at 13-15 hours (longer than it takes to complete the bar exam!), schools are commonly referring to the test taking season lasting from March through June.  At my child’s school, the test will span only 5 days but since we share the library with the high school, it will be closed for two full weeks and the block schedule which has allowed for extended time for hands-on projects and in-depth exploration of content, has been condensed for 5 weeks to allow for time to train the children in how to take the test and for the actual administration of it.  During these five weeks, each class is only 30 minutes long.

Districts are reporting less of a focus on subjects not tested by PARCC.  At one local meeting, a science teacher told parents that her administrator told her to stop teaching science and teach math that would be on the test, and to then use the math grades as those for her science course.

Finally, I believe the test is financially disruptive.  While schools have fired nurses, principals and school counselors, and teachers are paying out of pocket for basic supplies for their students, billions of dollars have been spent on these tests, and that’s not counting the money spent on computers required to take the test.  That is money I feel could better be spent on resources and staffing and services.

Teachers need to know how kids are doing. I have a right to know if my child is learning.

Absolutely.  And I know teachers don’t always have the time or perhaps the resources or knowledge to fully assess every student’s ability or progress.  However, the information that will be returned to teachers, if it is even returned to the teachers before the end of the school year, is not broken down in a way that provides them with diagnostic or instructional information.  Teachers, students nor their families will be allowed to see the tests to find out what students got wrong or why. And yet, the results will inevitably be used to determine teacher and school effectiveness.

I will also say that every teacher I have contacted about my son’s progress since the fourth grade has been able to show me examples of his work and clearly communicate to me where he excels and where he is struggling in meaningful ways that allow me to partner with them and help him improve his grades.

An act of civil disobedience.

I understand my fellow parents’ concerns.  There is fear that children who do not take the test will be penalized.  Some parents have resigned themselves to the fact that this test will eventually be required for high school graduation so they might as well let the kids get used to taking them as early as possible.  Others feel they need to teach their children to follow state mandates. These were all things I considered before sending in my letter of refusal.

Legally, it is the schools who are required to administer the exam in my state.  Children are not legally mandated to take it.  This is an important distinction I shared with my son when I explained he would not be testing with his classmates.  Additionally, I wanted him to understand that standardization of education does not accommodate differences in student ability, interests or experience.  My child would be fine taking a test.  My child’s in-school education is also supplemented by classes and extra-curricular activities I can afford to enroll him in, experiences that no doubt contribute to his ability to master information and perform better on tests.  This is not true for all students and I believe high-stakes testing deliberately undermines and punishes under-resourced areas and disproportionately affects students of color and students with special needs.

I don’t imagine that my refusal is going to do much to change the test and standardization climate in this country and I’m not terribly optimistic that the PARCC will go away.  But the attention it is drawing is bringing people together to focus on education in this country, and for that I am glad.   I have been fortunate that my son has had a series of dedicated, interested teachers who seem to still love the art of teaching and I hope that my small act of refusal sends the message to them and my state that I deeply value and appreciate what they bring to school every day.


Sources for this opinion piece:







Why is Heart Disease on the Rise?

heartI was at my annual exam last week and anxiously reviewing my family’s cancer history with my doctor.  My mother and her sister each died from cancers and I knew that put me at a higher risk.  My doctor reviewed my history and noted my regular screenings over the past 10 years.  She applauded my commitment to regular screenings and exams but then said “You know, what you really should be worrying about is heart disease.”  This was her gentle way of reminding me that I’ve been saying I should lose weight for the past 10 years.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women, killing half a million American women a year. And yet, according to a study by the Mayo Institute, only 8% of women see heart disease as a serious risk to their health.  The news isn’t any rosier for men.  The risk of stroke and arterial disease has increased by 24% in the past 10 years and the danger is climbing for young people as well. In another study published by the American Heart Association, researchers found that the risk of hypertension in children and teens rose 27% over a 13 year period. Hypertension can lead to stroke and heart disease.

News about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating are not new. Talk of fitness is as ubiquitous as ever.  My gym is packed this month with people making good on their New Year’s resolutions.  I have apps on my phone to track exercise, calories, carbohydrates and sugars.  My friends with FitBits can print out hourly reports of their health. With all the information and research available to us at our fingertips, how is it that heart disease continues to rise?

We don’t get enough exercise

Fifty years ago jobs were more active, enabling us to move throughout the day.  Active jobs now make up less than 20% of our workforce and we’re working longer hours.  On average, full-time workers spend about 47 hours a week working, that’s more than 350 extra more sedentary hours worked each year.  Since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, schools have struggled to make time for more rigorous instruction and testing and cuts to recess and physical education have become common solutions, meaning that our children are spending more time sitting.  The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity at least 5 days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 days a week for improved cardiovascular strength.  There are days I can’t imagine finding five minutes for myself, carving out 30 can feel nearly impossible.

Too much of the bad stuff

Processed and refined sugar, excessive sodium and trans fats are the chief threats to our heart health, and they are in nearly everything we eat.  I was shocked to learn that despite carefully cutting snacks and candies from my diet I was still consuming sugars at a dangerous rate.  Eighty percent of our food products now contain refined sugar and are hidden under at least 57 different names, my favorite being ‘dehydrated cane juice’ – does that fool anyone?

Processed packaged and restaurant foods are to blame for 80% of our sodium intake.  Current dietary guidelines call for no more than one teaspoon of salt a day.  By the year 2000, we were eating nearly three times that amount.

The effort to reduce or eliminate trans-fats has been making strides with some cities banning their use.  However, despite labels that claim ‘no trans-fat’, in a study of 4.340 top selling packaged foods bearing this claim, researchers found that 9% still contained the main source of trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils.

Not enough of the good stuff

With hidden ingredients, code names for refined sugars and blatant misrepresentation of fat content, what’s a gal supposed to do to eat better??  Well, let’s keep it real.  Real food, that is.  Fruits and vegetables.  Turns out only about 26% of adults in this country eat their veggies three times a day.  Vegetables are expensive, inconvenient and not equally available in all communities.  I have a weekly ritual right now that involves throwing out half the produce I bought on Sunday while promising to do better next week.  The large leaf lettuce that was going to house veggie wraps looks like my son’s science project and who knew a red pepper could completely liquefy??!

There is encouragement.  Farmers markets are increasingly allowing shoppers to use food stamps to buy fresh, local produce, many cities support urban gardens in vacant lots and nearly every state now has programs to send fresh vegetables into poorer schools and neighborhoods.  Some food companies are trying to market baby carrots, edamame and other small fruits and veggies as snack food.  But as a mother who was raised on an old food pyramid that emphasized meats and breads and clearing one’s plate, it’s still hard for me to feel I am feeding my child well when his plate is half-filled with veggies.

We’re still lighting up

“Nobody smokes anymore!” my teenage clients tell me and statistics seem to bear out their claim.  Only about 20% of Americans smoke now as compared to 40% 15 years ago.  But that’s still about 40 million people lighting up.  Smoking decreases good cholesterol, increases blood pressure and accelerates the risks of obesity and other heart health risks.

Research is mixed on whether the advent of e-cigarettes offers smokers a heart-safe way to enjoy nicotine.  Inhaling smoke weakens the cardiovascular system.  E-cigarettes deliver the nicotine without the tar and smoke of traditional cigarettes but there still may be risks.  Nicotine is known to constrict blood vessels which may compromise heart health. And the solvents used in e-cigarettes to break down the nicotine are still being studied and tested to determine their risks.

February is Heart Health Month

So why not take the opportunity to learn a little more about how to protect yours?  Here are some ways to start caring for your health and that of your loved ones.

  1. Films to educate: Why not make a movie night to view one of these films as a family or with your friends? Fed Up uncovers the risks of sugar consumption.  Super Size Me looks at fast food consumption and Forks over Knives makes the whole food, plant-based diet accessible and compelling.


  1. Try a Smoothie Challenge:  Smoothies can be quick, easy and tasty ways to get your servings of vegetables and fruits.  The Simple Green Smoothies 30 day challenge offers affordable and easy recipes that can be made in your blender. http://simplegreensmoothies.com/30-day-challenge


  1. Involve your loved ones: This is the month to celebrate love and what could show your valentines you care more than focusing on heart health, yours and theirs?  Making change is easier with support.  Start a Facebook group to keep yourselves accountable to each other for exercising and eating well.  Join an online community focused on healthy living. Ask your spouse or partner to join you in your efforts.


Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day and 35 million times in a year.  Isn’t it time to do something good for it in return?



ISO Romance: How to Get the Relationship You Want

“I think I’m ready to start dating again” announced my client, a 30 something, divorced suburban teacher.  “But this time, no jerks!” (Well, that’s not exactly the word she used, but you get the idea).  ‘G’ had had a few short-term relationships since her last divorce but nothing really lasting.  She joked “I will give a guy the best three months of his life, and then, he’s outta here!” It seemed that she hadn’t been able to find someone that really ‘clicked’ for her.  She admitted that sometimes she’d stay with a guy because she’d rather have the company than be alone, but she’d find herself cancelling dates and making excuses until the inevitable ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech.  Sometimes she delivered it, sometimes he.

I asked G. what she thought would be different this time.  “This time”, she answered, “I want to find someone I’m excited to be with – something that feels like it could have a future.” She sighed and I suspected there was more she wanted to say.  “You know, I would like an old-fashioned, honest to goodness romance!”

Here’s where we began:

Start with You

Up until now, G’s efforts at dating had been entirely online.  She scoured the profiles looking for men who ‘didn’t look creepy’ and who listed a few things she found interesting.  She went on many coffee dates, looking for red flags that would confirm her suspicion that it could never work.

“What are you bringing to the table?” I asked her.  She was confused initially.  All of her efforts had been to find someone who had traits she found interesting.  And if things didn’t work out, she could be pretty hard on herself, assuming she was too old or tall or fat or thin or……

Our first task was to help G. identify the strengths she brings to a relationship.  G is an excellent planner, she is able to throw a party or organize a trip with little notice.  She is also outgoing and friendly, always doing things for others.  Next, we looked at areas where G. might not excel.  She wished she could be more spontaneous and people were always telling her she needed to take time out for herself.  G. would need a partner who could appreciate her strengths, be comfortable with her taking the lead, but be able to take over planning sometimes so she could learn to be cared for by others.

Learn From the Past

This was a little harder.  G’s divorce was a painful one and she still held a lot of anger towards her ex-husband.  While she could easily identify what was wrong with him, it was harder for her to recognize her part in the end of the relationship.  Gradually, as she realized she no longer had to ‘win’ or convince him she was right, she became more able to accept the fact that she wasn’t always as direct as she could have been and she had given up trying to understand his point of view. In an effort to avoid conflict, she had also avoided speaking up for what she wanted.

As we reviewed her more recent relationships she realized that she had been seeking a particular ‘type’, looking for traits she assumed to be completely opposite of her husband so she wouldn’t make the same mistake again.  The mild-mannered banker who never yelled seemed so pleasant, until she grew bored of his inability to state any preference for a movie or restaurant. In her efforts to find something her husband was ‘not’, she had lost sight of what she wanted a partner to be.

Use Your Resources

Online dating certainly has its merits.  For the working woman, it can offer a quick and convenient way to put yourself out there and to make initial contacts. The search parameters make it possible to limit contacts to college graduates or men who scuba dive but G. was finding that despite her carefully crafted profile she still wasn’t meeting men who were a good match for her.

I suggested G let her friends, family and co-workers all know she was on the market.  She balked at the idea at first, not certain she wanted to let others know she was looking.  While G. said she was optimistic about finding someone, she recognized a part of her was afraid of being rejected.  She would frequently go out with people ‘because they asked’ rather than ask out the handsome man she’d noticed at the gym last month.

I suggested that she tap into her network. There is a good chance that someone knows someone who knows someone that could be a match for her.  The people in her network are people she has chosen because they are people she enjoys being with or respects. A referral from these folks is much more likely to be closer to the mark than the options that get generated from a dating site algorithm. While it might mean swallowing a little of her pride, it is possible that her friends have just been waiting for her to ask so they could introduce her to a cousin who would be absolutely perfect.

Take a Chance

G. had been on a dating hiatus because it had started to feel like work.  She had forgotten to have fun with the process.  She even had a routine for setting up dates! She’d scour the matches, contact three a day and try to make at least three coffee dates a week.  Dating is a numbers game for sure.  Some sources say it takes about 50 dates for every promising match.  So I didn’t fault G for her system. But I was worried she was going to develop a urinary tract infection if she kept drinking that much caffeine!! I encouraged G. to research local meet up groups and special interest clubs.  If she didn’t meet someone every time, she’d at least be meeting people with similar interests and people who were also willing to put themselves out there.

Enjoy the Ride

My hope for G. is that she can start to think about dating as a way to learn more about herself and others and not just as a means to an end.  Settling too quickly, taking the first partner to come along, might have felt like a relief in the moment but hasn’t been getting her closer to the relationship she’s always imagined.  Every date that doesn’t work out gets you a little closer to what you’re looking for.  I hope G. will be gentle with herself the next time things don’t work out.  She will have just learned more about what she doesn’t want.  And that’s a huge step towards getting what she wants.

In the end, the love you find will only be as good as the love you have for yourself.  Trust that you’re worthy and make the romance you deserve.


Am I in a Dysfunctional Relationship?

wilted flowersAll relationships have their ups and downs. In successful relationships, partners learn to explore disappointments and disillusionments together, each taking ownership of their own part In the problems and learning to overcome toxic behaviors together. For a partnership to be healthy, both partners need to learn why they act and react the way they do.  In dysfunctional relationships unhealthy patterns go unchanged.  Bickering and arguing, avoiding and withdrawing become standard and it can be difficult to objectively assess your relationship.

If any of these statements are true for you, it could be an indication that something is amiss in your relationship and you could benefit from counseling or support:


I am on edge about making my partner upset – you find yourself avoiding conflict and going out of your way to ‘smooth over’ any differences.

I make my choice to stay together because I don’t want to be alone – Fears of never finding another partner, or only ending up in another relationship like the one you are in keep you stuck in a relationship you don’t find satisfying

I’m embarrassed to introduce or spend time with friends and my significant other – Your partner’s behavior has become unpredictable or you worry that your friends would not approve of how they see you being treated

I feel controlled – you have limited opportunity to make choices or decisions in the relationship, you find yourself cancelling or avoiding events because your partner won’t want to go or will make thinks unpleasant if you do

I have to plead with my partner to meet my needs – you regularly or frequently find yourself feeling the relationship is ‘uneven’ and that your partner does not place importance on your needs

A healthy relationship requires healthy partners. The only way to improve a dysfunctional relationship is for both partners to identify and take ownership of their contributions to the problems.  That is often not a reality in dysfunctional partnerships.  If your partner is unwilling to participate in couples’ therapy, individual counseling can help you to recognize why you act and react the way you do and help you to build your own sense of self, giving you more choices and options in your intimate relationships.