More parents in New York are pulling their kids out of controversial Common Core standardised tests.
Students in New York in 3rd through 8th grade started taking the year-end tests this week, and already the number of opt-outs has surpassed last year’s numbers. And in New Mexico, Maine, Oregon and Pennsylvania, many parents have expressed their opposition to the tests.
This year, parents have become more outspoken about their concerns – that the tests contain puzzling questions and that too much of their children’s valuable time in the classroom is taken up by preparing for tests. And more of them are taking action by sitting out their children.
Brandy Keenan, a mother of four kids, two of them testing age, in North Salem School District, says that she felt enough support from other parents this year to feel comfortable about finally opting her kids out of tests. “When my son was in 3rd grade, I wanted to refuse the test for him, but nobody was doing it and we didn’t feel that was a very good environment to put our son in,” she told Business Insider.
Though she wasn’t comfortable with the exams at the time, she says that she and her husband convinced themselves that it would be OK and that it would potentially help their kids prepare for future standardised tests.
This year, they changed their minds.
No longer willing to buy into a system that she says will potentially damage schools and her children’s learning environment, she is opting both her 5th grader and 3rd grader out of testing. “The testing is poorly done, I think it’s poorly written, I don’t think it is fairly evaluating our schools,” she said.
Keenan says she noticed behavioural changes in her 3rd-grade son that were cause for concern. He was cranky and distressed at home due to stress over the tests.
Mary Molina, another mother of four with kids in North Salem, opted her kids out for the first time this year. She says that she wasn’t aware that opting out was even an option the first year that her kids took the assessments.
She voiced concern about the accuracy of the exams to actually test how well students understand concepts.
“When I’ve looked at the assessments that my children were scored on, my children scored very low on the English and maths portion, but scored extremely high in science, and I knew right away there was a discrepancy,” she said.
And Molina explained that the Common Core tests are far too rigid, perversely incentivizing kids not to think creatively and broadly, but only to learn one method that will be marked as correct on a test. She says she sees this firsthand when she helps her kids with their homework and they tell her that her method of solving a problem wouldn’t be accepted on a test.
“When you give a mandatory state test, on a state curriculum, on a specific method, I think that you’re kind of turning your kids into little soldiers.”
Some of the increased oppositon can be tied to the emergence of non-profit organisations that have helped parents navigate the confusing world of opting out.
Bianca Tanis, a mother of two, co-founded NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) as a forum for parents and community members who were concerned with Common Core testing. One of her children has a learning disability and she wanted to opt him out of testing two years ago since she knew the test would not be educationally appropriate.
At the time, she was told that it was not possible. But that was a few years ago when she says there were less options for parents.
Today, she opts her children out of testing, and helps other parents understand their rights and the repercussions of opting out. NYSAPE holds small community forums around New York state to help educate parents about the Common Core tests. So far they have provided about 70 such forums around the state.
She was quick to point out that legally, schools and districts in New York can’t penalise parents for their decision to sit children out of exams. And she highlights that NYSAPE isn’t anti-testing, they just want developmentally appropriate tests, and don’t believe that the Common Core tests meet this criterion.
“We want to hit the pause button. We want independent review panel to take a look at the Common Core and decide if its really appropriate for our kids,” Tanis said.
In addition to the frustration that parents say they feel over inappropriate tests that negatively impact their kids, parents feel that they are being belittled and ignored, which adds to their anger and frustration.
“The fact that the response I see from those in the Education Department is that parents are somehow uneducated or being used as pawns in this issue further demonstrates that they refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem here and engage in a dialogue,” Keenan said.
“They’re being dismissive and that means they’re not open to change. They’re not listening.”
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