How to opt your child out of the PSSAs

About 20 percent of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences opted out of standardized testing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

About 20 percent of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences opted out of standardized testing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

You may have heard the buzz around the growing “opt out” movement in Philadelphia and throughout the nation. In just one city school, Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, parents of over 100 students have opted their children out of the state standardized tests this spring.

This movement is not by accident. It has been carefully orchestrated by activist educators and parents, from organizations like the Caucus for Working Educators and United Opt Out, and it is growing by the day. The opt-out movement is a response to both the standardization of the educational experience and the damage of high stakes testing.

But opting out is also an individual decision. If you are a Pennsylvania parent, frustrated with what high-stakes testing has done to your school, your child or both, refusing the PSSAs is an option. Some parents of English language learners and/or students with special needs decide the test is harmful to their children, but parents in traditionally high-performing groups are opting out as well, citing both personal and political reasons.

In order to refuse administration of the PSSAs for your child, there are three steps to follow. Although Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that offers an automatic opt-out option, the only current exemption for parents in Pennsylvania is to claim “religious and philosophical objections.” Consequently, the procedure looks like this:

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As a parent of a child in third through eighth grade in a Pennsylvania public or charter school, you should inform the school in writing of your intention to opt out of the April PSSAs.
Two weeks before the test is due to be administered, the school testing coordinator should contact you to come in and review the test. You will be asked to sign a non-disclosure statement to protect test privacy.
Once you’ve reviewed the test, you will write a letter to the superintendent and principal. Your letter should specifically state that you are refusing the PSSAs for your child based on religious and philosophical objections. You do not need to explain beyond that statement.

This online toolkit has lots of information and sample wording.

Questions? Parents can learn more at the upcoming “test-in” or by contacting Alison McDowell of United Opt Out.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal