Utah Board Member Adds Courageous Voice To Testing “Opt Out” Controversy: “It Seems Ludicrous To Me….”

I apologize for, once again, bringing in issues related to Common Core reform on this page.    The stated purpose was to provide a inside peek into the education journey of my four year old, and to communicate our experiences to a growing number of parents of “divergent children”, many of whom are at a lose when it comes to finding viable options outside of public school settings.

I certainly did not expect today to be the first time in two years, that I received a response from a member of our State Board of Education.    Utah State Board Member, Terrly Warner’s response, however, is relevant to all parents of divergent kids who are trying to find their way in public school education settings, as well as attempting to keep their parental rights afforded to them by law.

The original letter sent to the entire Utah State Board of Education is found here:   http://goo.gl/36GY0D.

It basically states that public school should not ever be in the business of making education decisions for other people’s kids without their informed consent.    Ms. Warner’s bold response discussed consent issues, and unexpectedly went into multiple areas of concerns our clinic has voiced loudly over the past two years.  To save time and space, I will provide original quotes Ms. Warner provided in the “response to the response” to my original letter:

February 11, 2015

Terryl Warner
Utah State Board of Education

Dear Ms. Warner:

Thank you for responding to letter I sent last week to every member of Utah State Board of Education on behalf of my daughter, current clients under the care of my child psychologists and/or therapist, and parents in Utah who have been adversely affected by recent education decisions emanating from the Utah State Office of Education.   I apologize for the delay, but I have been in shocked.   This is the first written response that I have received regarding my concerns from a someone involved Utah education, elected or otherwise, in the past two years since I went on national television to voice these concerns both as a father of public school children, as well as Doctor of Clinical Psychology.  

Your quote from a recent interview inspired me to respond to your email:

“I believe that my responsibility is not to a company. It’s not to a lobby group. My responsibility as an elected official is to the people I represent, and that’s parents and community members and teachers and administrators, so I’m going to listen to them, and administrators, so I’m going to listen to them, and that’s my responsibility.”

-October 9, 2014 Interview with HJNews.com-

Utah State Board of Education Member Terryl Warner Taking The Oath Of Office

I will briefly respond to your questions, or add additional commentary, to each of your points as outlined below:

Board Member’s Warner Comment:  “Dr. Thompson, I completely agree with you in that a student should not be required to take any standardized test administered by the school, school district or state if the parent does not wish the student to participate. Additionally, students should not have to take the interim or practice tests if the parent does not wish the student to participate.”

My Reply:  Our clinic’s motto of “Parent’s Are, And Must Always Be, The Resident Experts of Their Own Children” was not adopted via a marketing campaign, the concept is well grounded in peer reviewed research in psychology, education, sociological and legal journals of thought, as well as clearly being outlined in the State of Utah’s Constitution.  Our involvement and commentary regarding this issue of parental rights is strictly limited to best ethical practices in clinical psychology as outlined in our Code of Ethics.

There are multiple reasons along these lines why the parent or guardian are the best people to make unfettered choices regarding their children’s participation in any and all assessments emanating from public schools.   I have attached a link below to a recent 48 minute parent presentation to over 1000 parents, lawmakers and elected state education officials in Idaho regarding this, and multiple other issues related to ethics and transparency in education, that are woefully lacking in Utah’s behavior towards ground level parents, as well as teachers:

(“When Agendas Trump Ethics?  Stick Happens” http://vimeo.com/110738936)

Board Member’s Warner Comment: “By the way, when you are talking about parents should opt in, are you thinking about an informed consent form? If so, who would you point to as the IRB be that would approve it? I found that an interesting point if that is what you meant in your letter.”

My Reply:   In terms of written informed consent, those are my thoughts exactly.   There is a viable reason why every one of my clinicians must abide the tenants of informed consent whenever they provide therapy or academic, emotional/behavioral, or cognitive testing for minor children.   As outlined in my presentation, the main reason is to “avoid harm” or exploitation.    

The harm and exploitation as such applies to the 650,000 children in public schools is unlike anything I have ever seen personally as father, or professionally as a Doctor of Psychology.   If elected leaders from the Board, or appointed education officials from the Utah State Office of Education, in their wisdom, elect to implement a program or a “novel” testing/assessment procedure, I have zero problem with letting them “do their job”.   However, it is imperative that parents receive information free from political bias, as such is needed to make informed decisions regarding their children.

If in fact, USOE and the State Board of Education, had properly and openly informed parents in Utah about key aspects and issues associated with the UTAH SAGE/Common Core test, our clinic would never have spoken up publicly about our concerns unless we were approached.   However, the USOE SAGE town hall meetings, as well as current informational flyers available on the USOE webpage, set a unprecedented low standard in the area of “lies of omissions.”  The standard of “informed consent” requires 100% transparency when such involve any type of assessment on a child.  

You mentioned “IRB” (Internal Review Boards) in your email to me.   We elected not to discuss this issue in the presentation due to time constraints, as well as the fact that most of people in attendance are not educated about the intense requirements surrounding the issues of consent and avoiding harm along these lines, as such are required in graduate schools and research think tanks around the country.   Simply put, I could not even send out a simple survey to a person in graduate school as part of my research, without obtaining IRB approval.   I was thrilled that you were aware of such processes.


Board Member’s Warner Comment:  “You mentioned your serious concerns of the high stakes testing; I agree with you. As a victim advocate, I work with kids who are going through the criminal justice system and I worry about the high stakes testing when they are in crisis. Further, I worry about the implementation of tying teacher salaries and evaluations to these tests; especially in light of the serious social issues facing children today – issues that a teacher may not have any control over. It seems ludicrous to me to hold a teacher responsible for how a child performs on a series of standardized tests; all that will do is put more pressure on children and create a divide between parents/children and teachers.”

My Reply: It is not only “ludicrous”,it simply has absolutely no basis in science on any practical or ethical arena.   My wife and I both completed our Residency training in therapy and assessment in the inner cities of Oakland, CA.  You are wise to be worried about issues related to kid in poverty, as well as kids who are suffering from mental health issues alongs the lines of depression, anxiety and PTSD to name just a few.

Bottom line:  There is absolutely no way to obtain a statistically accurate assessment from children in those situations, and placing them in these high stakes testing environments, can and has caused emotional harm to a significantly significant amount of Utah’s public school children.    The exact nature of this harm we have seen and treated in our clinic, was outlined in our presentation linked above.


Board Member’s Warner Comment:”It seems ludicrous to me to hold a teacher responsible for how a child performs on a series of standardized tests; all that will do is put more pressure on children and create a divide between parents/children and teachers.”

My ReplyThe description of this practice as “ludicrous” is again accurate.   There is absolutely zero basis in science or statistics which can support grading teachers based on an experimental, high stakes assessment test given to a wide range of diverse children.   This issue was also briefly discussed in a very blunt manner during the presentation.

Board Member’s Warner Comment: ”Can you imagine a child dealing with divorce or going through the criminal justice process as a child abuse victim or living with domestic violence and trying to do his/her best on a standardized test that will affect a teacher’s salary? I can’t even begin to fathom this and it makes absolutely no sense to me!”


My Reply:  Yes, not only can I imagine, as with you, I have witnessed the immediate impact of these issues on children and teens.   The failure of education leaders to acknowledge this issue has, and will continue to lead children in those situations down a very dangerous path.

As for evaluating teachers based on these high stakes exams, I have presented in other States last where teacher union leaders have caught onto the idiocy and statistical foibles of this practice.   They are very vocal in their objections.   Utah Teacher Union leaders will regret their literal silence on this issue.

Our clinicians and staff have elected to no longer engage in public policy issues associated with education reform in our home states of Utah and California.   After our presentations to multiple states in October of 2014, there is simply nothing left to say.  We feel it is the sacred responsibility of those in elected and appointed positions of power to navigate the political and public policies roads, with the ultimate responsibility of advocating for our children.    When agendas and politics trump the very ethics designed to protect children, and nothing is said about the situation, it is my personal belief that we as a community have lost our collective souls.

This does not appear to be the case for you.

I wish you luck in your duties as member of the Utah State Board of Education, and I hope that you continue to honor the oath of office that you recently took.   Let me know if I, or our clinic, can be of any (discrete) help to you.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Thompson, Psy.D.

One final word of advice to education activists and parents:

Rights afforded by the Constitution and statues regarding the freedom of parents to have significant impact in their kid’s education are extremely important.   With that said, in addition to a focus on “liberty” and “freedom”, consider inputting into the conversation (as Ms. Warner and our clinic has) the issue of sound, already established ethics in the areas of testing and experimentation.    Here are links to the APA (American Psychological Association) Code of Ethics, (http://apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx) as well as the  NASP (National Association of School Psychologist) Code of Ethics.

Study them.  Learn them.  Incorporate them into conversations with educators, lawmakers and fellow parents and education activists.    The ethics surrounding “informed consent”, “experimental testing on children” as well as admonitions of avoiding “lies by omissions”, were put into place after 150 years of trial and error for one reason:

To protect vulnerable parents and children from exploitation from those in positions of power and influence.  

At no prior time in the history of our nation’s education system, has Federal/State politicians & education administrators, and corporations (e.g., “Big Testing”), wielded more power and influence on our nation’s children than what we are witnessing today.

Love it.

Hate it.

I do not care. I’m just a doctor…

…but by all means necessary, watch it, monitor it, and continue to question the authority and power of those entrusted with the care of your children.   Their lives and futures may depend upon it.

Theo R. Authority

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Dr. Gary Thompson

I am a "retired" Doctor of Clinical Psychology and Special Education Advocate. I currently provide education and Forensic Psychology consulting services for Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center, Inc, as well as their clients. In 2015-2016I will attempt to provide a educational framework for my own 4.5 year old daughter. Public school? Private school? Homeschool? Dual enrollment? It's one thing to provide education advice to the masses, but it is another ball game when it comes to ones own child. Join me via my (hopeful) triumphs and mistakes as I leave the professional setting, and embark on a journey with my child in a education world that has been in turmoil and controversy.