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150 students decline to take Common Core tests

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As Common Core tests were administered across New York this week, parents of at least 150 north country students had their children opt out of taking the controversial new assessment.

“This is a parent’s choice,” said Leueen Smithling, superintendent of the Beaver River Central School District.

Testing began Tuesday for English language arts and social studies. More than 150 students in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties did not sit for the tests, according to statistics reported by local school districts.

Statewide, it was unknown how many students opted out, state Education Department spokesman Jonathan D. Burman said.

“We won’t have figures until the end of the testing process, when all exams have been scored and submitted and the results are reported publicly,” he said. Last year, fewer than 1 percent statewide refused the testing, he said.

The Common Core program was designed to create national standards to ensure that all children are prepared for college or work. Yet parents who pulled their children out of the assessments did so because they believe the curriculum and testing were implemented too quickly, said Travis W. Hoover, superintendent of the LaFargeville Central School District.

Reacting to widespread frustration and anxiety about the tests, the state Board of Regents in February delayed full implementation of Common Core standards. The first students who will have to pass them to graduate will be the class of 2022, a delay of five years.

Meanwhile, several districts, including Beaver River, Carthage, LaFargeville, South Jefferson and South Lewis, set up alternative locations for students who weren’t taking the tests to read or work on other projects. At Copenhagen Central School, students who did not take the tests left school, Superintendent Scott N. Connell said.

Other districts, however, required students to remain in their seats even if they did not participate in the assessment.

“Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered,” state Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said in a news release.

Two months ago, nearly three dozen districts statewide had so-called “sit-and-stare” policies, said Carl D. Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers union. That number has dropped to about 15, he said, calling the decline a step in the right direction.

The sit-and-stare policy is cruel and makes the students opting out feel as if they are being punished, Mr. Korn said.

“We strongly oppose sit-and-stare,” Mr. Korn said. “We’re calling on the New York state Education Department to end this unsound and frankly abusive policy.”

Mr. Hoover, the LaFargeville superintendent, said he tried to talk with parents to find out why they didn’t want their children taking the tests.

“Most of the parents were just upset over testing and what they said was poor implementation by the state,” he said.

He said every parent he spoke with expressed concern that the modules were not ready to review at the beginning of the school year.

The tests have proved difficult.

At Sackets Harbor Central, students of all ability levels were having trouble finishing in the designated time, high school Principal Jennifer L. Gaffney-Goodnough said.

“It takes time to think critically,” she said. “Kids who weren’t finishing the test were kids with a high desire to perform meticulously.”

Mrs. Smithling, the Beaver River superintendent, said she heard from teachers that the tests appeared to be an improvement over last year’s versions. She said she was pleased to see that changes were being made to improve the tests.

“This is just one of the benchmarks to see if a student needs academic intervention services,” Mrs. Smithling said.

Without the Common Core assessments, teachers are still able to gauge students’ progress, she said.

She cautioned that students who do not take the tests won’t have the same experience as their peers when they take the Regents exams in ninth grade.

Lyme Central School Superintendent Karen M. Donahue said none of her students opted out of the testing. She attributed the full participation partly to two Common Core education nights held for parents.

“I think it was very helpful; it gave parents a chance to see what is actually happening in the classroom,” Mrs. Donahue said.

Mr. Burman said that, despite the criticism over Common Core, the tests are important for assessing students’ development.

“State assessments offer an opportunity for educators and parents to gauge the progress a child is making toward the standards. Why wouldn’t a parent want to know how well his or her child is doing?” Mr. Burman said.

common core opt out
The number of students per school district who did not take the Common Core tests:
Jefferson County
Alexandria 8 Carthage 30 Indian River 20 General Brown 1 LaFargeville 5 Lyme 0 Sackets Harbor 10 South Jefferson 3 Thousand Islands 11 Watertown 20 (Belleville Henderson data not available)
Lewis County
Beaver River8 Copenhagen2 Lowville 10 South Lewis0 (Harrisville data not available)
St. Lawrence County
Colton-Pierrepont 0 Massena 33 Norwood-Norfolk1 Parishville-Hopkinton 2 Potsdam27 St. Lawrence5 (Data for Canton, Clifton-Fine, Edwards-Knox, Gouverneur, Hammond, Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton, Lisbon, Madrid-Waddington, Morristown and Odgensburg were not available)

WOULD YOU KNOW THE ANSWER?
From the 2005 New York State Learning Standards exam, fourth grade version:
Find the area of a rectangle by counting the number of squares needed to cover it.
From the Common Core exam, third grade version:
Use tiling to show in a concrete case that the area of a rectangle with whole number side lengths a and b+c is the sum of a*c and b*c. Use area models to represent the distributive property in mathematical reasoning. Recognize area as additive. Find areas of rectilinear figures by decomposing them into non-overlapping rectangles and adding the areas of the non-overlapping parts, applying this technique to solve real world problems.
From the Washington Post
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