BY CHERYL SLAVIN
GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino made waves last week when he announced that his children would be “opting out” of the Common Core aligned statewide ELA and math assessment exams. He might be the most prominent figure to make such a politically charged announcement, but he is not alone.
Parents all over New York, including Rockland County, have chosen to do the same. About 73 students in Nyack have opted out; in South Orangetown, about 27 students, according to Superintendent Ken Mitchell.
The number in Clarkstown, according to a district spokeswoman, was about 105. In North Rockland, about 127 families “self-reported” that they opted out. While these numbers might seem low compared to the hundreds of children who did take the test, they are remarkable in that such a choice has never been exercised before.
“I’ve been in education for more than 30 years,” South Orangetown Superintendent Ken Mitchell told the Rockland County Times, “and I’ve never seen such a backlash, such an outpouring of anger.”
Similarly, James Montesano, superintendent of the Nyack School District, said, “We have never seen anything like this. It is definitely related to the implementation of Common Core. Parents are concerned about the increase in testing time and difficulty. They worry that the test is too far beyond the grade level of the students taking it.”
There is no official sanction for not taking the test, and in many Rockland districts those doing so are afforded a separate location to wait in until the testing is over.
This is the second year that the statewide assessment tests have been aligned to the Common Core standards. Only 31 percent of last year’s test takers achieved a score of proficiency. Parents, students, educators and many elected officials have soundly criticized the implementation of the standards as poorly planned and too rapid, affording insufficient time and funding for proper teacher training and curriculum modification.
Parents have railed against incomprehensible math assignments and English studies they consider too advanced for the corresponding grade levels. Teachers and administrators have protested against performance evaluations tied to Common Core assessments.
Statewide assessment tests are certainly nothing new; the State Education Department has administered them for years. Even before Common Core the tests engendered a certain amount of controversy; many parents and educators have objected to what they term “teaching to the test.”
This year, however, is the first time that parents have taken their objections one step further by refusing to have their children take the test at all. New York State Allies for Public Education has claimed on its website that over 30,000 families have self-reported to opting out.
Notably, the Legislature passed reforms to Common Core even as children across the state sat to take this year’s tests. Among the changes: the results of the Common Core aligned assessment tests would not, after all, appear on any student’s transcript through December 2018, and the tests are never to be used as the sole determining factor for student placement. While probably welcome news for many of the parents concerned about the fairness of the tests, the Legislature’s action raises another question: why should any student take the tests at all?
In answer, state education officials claim that the tests still provide a benchmark of student progress and a basis of comparison between districts. Moreover, until further notice, the tests are still being used as 20 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation, even though the state has deemed those same exams an inadequate a measure of student performance. This has Common Core detractors fuming, including the NYS United Teachers union, which has recently launched a $1.5 million ad campaign against Governor Cuomo.
Perhaps in response to the consistent pressure, Cuomo has finally admitted that “we have to deal with the issue of the effect of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations.” At an April 1 news conference he noted that it didn’t make sense to deem Common Core testing premature for students and still use that same testing to evaluate teachers. It is an issue, he stated, that he hoped to address before the end of the Legislative session. His words mark a change for the first time from his previously unyielding position linking test results with teacher accountability.
“At least,” Montesano says, “the controversy has contributed to the conversation. We’re seeing people from all over the political spectrum talking and getting involved because of this issue. And that can be a good thing for everyone.”