Mary and Tracy Finney have lived in Marietta for 16 years. They have a third-grader and a fifth-grader at West Side Elementary, along with a ninth-grader at Marietta High School, and say they love the school system. But the Finneys are opposed to standardized testing, worried about data being collected on children as well as the stress they say is caused by the over-testing of students.
“You have to have testing at some point, but there’s so much standardized
testing now,” she said. “It’s for the higher-ups, the bureaucrats, not the educators. They are over-testing our children. I’ve always thought that. We said we don’t want to do this much (testing). That was our incentive to refuse taking the CRCT.”
The test is given across Georgia. It began Wednesday and runs through next Tuesday. The Finneys say the school system is violating their 14th Amendment rights in trying to force their kids to take the CRCT and they plan to either send their children to private school or home school them next year.
Origins of the problem
Standardized testing has become a hot political issue across the nation. The Georgia Legislature nearly pulled the state out of Common Core — a collaboration of 45 states establishing national standards for what should be learned in each grade — earlier this year, before the effort died at the last minute.
Some have concerns about private companies that could make millions in profits from Common Core, while others worry about the amounts of data being collected on students nationwide though standardized tests. The Finneys appear to be in the second group.
“They are collecting data on our children,” Mary Finney said. “Now, with Common Core there is such a large amount of information and data collected on children. People don’t realize it. We don’t want to sound like we’re wearing tin-foil hats, but they want to track our kids from kindergarten through college.”
When they told West Side Principal Karen Smits that their children wouldn’t be taking the CRCT, her response alarmed them.
“To my knowledge, there is not an opt-out option for the CRCT since these tests are mandated by state law,” she wrote in an email. “I have forwarded your email to our Superintendent, Dr. Lembeck, and Associate Superintendent Dayton Hibbs for further guidance. Someone will be in touch soon.”
That email did not set well with the Finneys.
“With all due respect, we never requested to opt out,” Tracey Finney wrote in response. “We are REFUSING the CRCTs.”
Another issue is a long-planned field trip to Blue Ridge. The Finneys’ fifth-grader has already paid to go on the trip, but it falls during CRCT make-up days. They are afraid their child won’t be able to go on the trip if the test isn’t taken.
Meeting with administrators goes sour
Things didn’t improve from there. The Finneys worked out a meeting with school administrators early Wednesday morning to talk things over. But when they arrived, they were confronted by a police officer instead of the principal.
According to Tracey Finney, the officer was extremely nice and professional, but told them being on school property while actively opposed to the test was “kind of a trespassing thing” and that their kids weren’t allowed on the property either if they weren’t going to take the test. The officer’s report confirms the parents were told they and their students would be trespassing if they stayed on the property.
The family then worked out a deal to take their kids to school at 11:30, after testing was over, but another email from the West Side principal stopped them in their tracks.
“It is my understanding that you plan to bring the children to school this afternoon,” Smits wrote. “Please be aware that CRCT make-up testing will begin today for any children who miss testing this morning and arrive in the afternoon.”
It appears there had been a misunderstanding about the meeting.
Smits emailed the Finneys at 6:40 p.m., notifying them of her willingness to meet with them in the morning. But another email, sent more than two hours later by Associate Superintendent Dayton Hibbs, at 9:04 p.m., canceled the meeting set by Smits.
Superintendent Emily Lembeck said the family probably saw the email.
“Most people are tied to their phones,” she said. “They didn’t say to the officer they hadn’t seen anything.”
But the Finneys said they did not see the later email sent after 9 p.m., and it was never mentioned when they showed up at the school the next morning.
“I didn’t discover that email until a few hours ago. I was awake but figured no one was going to respond after 6 p.m.,” said Mary Finney of the email sent to her husband’s account. “Nothing was mentioned about it during the meeting.”
School board chair, superintendent weigh in
Randy Weiner is the school board chairman at Marietta City Schools and his district includes West Side Elementary. Personally, he said he wouldn’t pull his students out of the test, adding he hasn’t heard of any parent doing so in his eight years on the school board.
“Generally speaking, if it were my kids who simply were stressed out about taking the CRCT, I would tell them to get with the program and that they would be taking the CRCT today,” he said.
But he assured Marietta schools will not force any kids to take the test if they don’t want to.
“Since there is no opt-out provision in the law, the principals feel there is no choice,” he said. “That’s why the Finneys feel they were being forced to take the CRCT. We would not force a child to take the test. We’ll use common sense.”
Marietta schools attorney Clem Doyle confirmed there is no opt-out provision in the law. Weiner said that’s a product of lawmakers not anticipating anyone would want to opt out.
“They didn’t anticipate parents demanding their child not take the test, I’m sure,” he said.
But while Lembeck stressed she hopes the problem can be resolved, she did not say for sure if the Finney children will have to take the test or not.
“The Georgia statutes are strongly worded stating all third- and fifth- graders shall be tested,” she said. “The law provides no guidelines for parents who might want to opt out. The district is working with the state Department of Education to seek guidance regarding balancing our obligations under state law and the state Department of Education’s rules regarding the ability to accommodate these sort of parental requests.”
She also said she couldn’t guarantee the children would be allowed to go on next week’s field trip during CRCT makeup days, saying she hasn’t met with the DOE, school leadership and the parents yet to come to a resolution.
This is the first time parents in a Marietta school have told the district they don’t want their kids to take the test, according to Lembeck, though it has happened elsewhere.
Whatever happens in this situation is likely to set a precedent for the future.
“I think we need to make sure the parents are educated as to the reason why we give these assessments,” Lembeck said. “We don’t take them lightly, nor do we want to see parents and students pitted at odds with our schools for a required assessment. But if there is a way to seek resolution, that is what we want to do.”