Common Core is a hot topic amongst parents of school aged kids right now, especially as the time for testing draws near. In case you haven't heard of it or are unsure exactly what "Common Core" entails, here is a little background. "Common Core" is just a shortened version of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The state-run program, which was first proposed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, is intended to introduce a single set of newer, more challenging standards for math and language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade. Prior to Common Core, every state set its own academic standards. Proponents of Common Core argue that the new standards, which ostensibly require critical thinking and analytical skills, will make students globally competitive in a rapidly shifting economy. The standards are also accompanied by new standardized tests.
The new standards, which were approved by 45 states and the District of Columbia and are now being implemented across the country (though some states are reconsidering), also have their fair share of opponents. Many argue that the standards, especially for young children, are not developmentally appropriate. Many also argue against relying on test scores to make critical educational decisions about students or schools - or what is called "high stakes testing". Common examples include retaining a child in grade or withholding a students high-school diploma solely on the basis their score on a test, or relying on test scores to determine whether a teacher or school should be sanctioned or rewarded.
Opposition to the standards, both their content and their implementation, has been growing in New York (and other states) among teachers, principals, superintendents and parents, some of whom have refused to allow their children to take the exams (testing begins in third grade). To read more about the Common Core, click here to read my piece in Mamatoga Magazine.
While there is no provision to opt out of these tests, parents do have the right to refuse them. Under NY state’s education law, there is a difference between refusing to take the test vs. opting out. Essentially, parents can participate in a civil disobedience movement by refusing to allow their children to take the tests. Refusing the testing has no affect on the children’s score, on the school or on the teachers.
The tests under the standardized system begin April 1st, and I wanted to find a local family that had taken the refusal route to see what the process was like. I spoke to Trent and Tara Sano who chose to refuse the testing for their son Carter, and have said that the experience for them has been very positive, citing a good relationship and open communication between their principal and teacher.
What was the process of refusing the test like? Was it easy to do, was the school/teacher accepting of the refusal, was there an open communication about the refusal?
We were fortunate enough to have a relationship with the school principal. I sent an email letting him know that I’d be refusing the test on our son’s behalf and asked him how he’d like me to proceed in order to be as respectful as possible to the school and teacher. He asked if we could sit down for a 15-minute meeting when I dropped off my letter, which we did. We agreed to disagree on the necessity and usefulness of the test, but ensured we were on the same page about what both parties’ responsibilities were.
What was the dialogue like between you and your child about refusing the test?
We explained why we thought the test – in its current form - wasn’t right for him and, while we felt the same was true for other kids, we were only able to do what we thought was best for him. We told him he had a responsibility to try just as hard – if not harder – on test practice and preparation, and we asked him not to share with other kids that he wasn’t taking the test, as we wanted to cause as little disruption in the classroom as possible.
Are there other parents you know that have also refused?
Yes, my sister (who is a middle school teacher) and a good friend (a former Elementary teacher) have both refused and helped us as resources.
What will your child be doing instead of taking the tests?
He’ll be reading at his desk. While we wanted the opportunity for him to go to a separate location and/or have some other engaging activities, we understand that the school’s only responsibility is to not have him “sit and stare”. And they’ve committed to allow him to read during the time.
Do you have any resources (online or otherwise) that you felt were helpful with this process?
There are so many resources it’s easy to get lost. www.fairtest.org has tons of good resources.
What would you tell parents who are considering refusing the test?
Do your research, connect with someone who has done it in the past, and be very respectful and communicative with the school. But, most importantly, ensure your reasons for refusing are in your child’s best interest and not because it’s becoming more trendy to do so. Just because you disagree with Common Core or the direction of our state or federal education doesn’t mean refusing right now is what’s best for your child. It may cause some children more harm than good. Don’t make it a political or social statement - really look deeper at the reasoning and goal.
Many thanks to the Sanos for speaking with me and sharing their experience. If you'd like to share your experience, contact me at email@example.com to be included in upcoming posts in this continued series on the Common Core in our schools.