Mother has had it with high-stakes public school accountability tests

Published June 7, 2014

Perhaps it starts with one voice.

One passionate, concerned and reasoned voice, inspirational enough to encourage others to stand and speak, too.

Perhaps the solution to our educational hostilities lies not in Tallahassee, not in layers of bureaucracy and not in Jeb Bush's zealotry, but in the words of one mother too disheartened to stay quiet.

Chances are, you've never heard of Lynne Rigby, but you know who she is. She is the neighbor juggling a business and a house full of kids. She is the mom making sure homework gets done, teeth get brushed. She might as well be every parent on every street in every city in Florida.

She is also the frustrated mother who raised her voice and was heard by more than 100,000.

Rigby, 40, who lives in Seminole County with her husband and five children, posted a letter on her blog (lynne addressed to Gov. Rick Scott and school officials explaining why she was removing her youngest children from public school.

"Today's public school atmosphere is all about accountability and not about the actual needs of the child,'' she wrote. "Not everything in education can be quantified; we are dealing with little humans who come into that classroom every day with different backgrounds.''

The true power of her letter is that it is so heartfelt. It is not a crusade. It is not a political statement. She jokingly referred to it as a manifesto, but it has none of the kooky conspiracy theories popular among Common Core critics.

Instead it is a plea to the powers that be, to listen to parents, to trust teachers, to stop putting education in the hands of testing conglomerates.

She correctly discerns that the problem in schools is not the concept of accountability, but the implementation.

Schools have become assembly lines designed to produce one product: A student who can pass a standardized test. There is little creativity or spontaneity. There is zero room for individuality. The entire school year is built around the taking of a test.

And because lawmakers have tied teacher evaluations, pay raises and revenues to test results, there is a built-in motivation to forsake every other consideration in the chase to score higher.

Worst of all, as Rigby points out, is that these tests are far from perfect. Some questions are ambiguous. Others have more than one answer that could be correct. And the grading of essays can vary wildly.

We have turned education over to faceless corporations making hundreds of millions of dollars on the creation, implementation and grading of tests that are shrouded in secrecy in the name of security.

"How can parents or teachers know the validity of the test if we never see it?'' Rigby asked me in an email. "Yet we stake so much of our child's educational road on this test.''

Rigby, a photographer whose youngest children will now go to private school, was stunned by the response to her blog, which she uses to post pictures. As of Friday, the post had 150,000 views, which doesn't include the people who also read it in full in a Washington Post blog.

"I just wanted my friends to see the reasons why I made my decision,'' she said. "I just want what's best for my kids. And so does everybody else.''

One voice. One parent.

But if the response to her letter is any indication, there are thousands upon thousands just like her. I pray their voices are also heard.