Jewish parents of children in DeKalb County public schools are racing the calendar to change the schedule for standardized testing.
“If the school district maintains this schedule, it will pressure Jewish families to violate their religious tenets so that their children can have the best chance to qualify for gifted and other special programs,” reads a letter parents have drafted. “They shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
DeKalb has scheduled the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills for first-, third-, fifth- and seventh-graders, used in identifying gifted students, for Sept. 15, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and Sept. 23, Yom Kippur. The first day of Rosh Hashanah is the makeup date for another standardized test, the Cognitive Abilities Test.
No other major school system in metro Atlanta has scheduled such a testing conflict, although Gwinnett County has squeezed in the CogAT right after Rosh Hashanah. Cobb County has conflicts with the second day of Sukkot, Shemini Azeret and Simchat Torah.
New DeKalb Superintendent Stephen Green, who inherited the schedule, acknowledged in a message to Board of Education member Stan Jester that the testing creates a religious conflict not only for Jewish students, but also for Muslims and Hindus.
Jester has asked Green to change the testing dates, as has his wife, county Commissioner Nancy Jester. She noted the high proportion of Jewish students in DeKalb schools, which Litner said tops 10 percent.
Parents are sending letters to Green and school board members to try to change the test dates, as DeKalb did three years ago to avoid a conflict with Halloween.
“It seems like they would make the same accommodation for the holiest of holidays,” Litner said.
Those who want to join the campaign to change the testing dates can find a sample letter at the Resolve DeKalb ITBS Testing Facebook page, along with the email addresses of school system officials.
Litner said B’nai Torah Rabbi Joshua Heller, who joined the parents meeting Aug. 23, is organizing fellow rabbis to add pressure for DeKalb to change the dates.
Most school systems in the area are administering the ITBS in mid-October, but DeKalb moved its rest window ahead one month to accelerate the identification of gifted students, Green told Stan Jester.
In her Aug. 24 letter, Nancy Jester praised the school system’s intent, “but, surely the faith traditions of our friends and neighbors must be given considerable weight when crafting the testing calendar.”