Parents rally against Common Core

By Annie Nova. Parents and educational advocates discuss the effects of testing at P.S. 75 on March 19.

Excessive emphasis on testing is overwhelming children, they argue

Parents and activists rallied in the gymnasium inside P.S. 75 in Longwood on March 19, expressing outrage over the testing-obsessed culture they say is setting their children up for failure.

Additionally, the protesters contend that New York State owes their school more than $1 million it promised in 2007 but is yet to deliver. They say those funds would help P.S. 75 implement programs and activities that would help it to bypass the fixation on testing.

Carrie McLaren, a member of NYC Opt Out, a coalition of parents that vows to boycott state tests, reminded her fellow protesters that the state promised to invest $5.5 billion in New York City public schools, as part of the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity Resolution. Over $2 billion of that money is yet to be dispensed, depriving P.S. 75 alone of $1, 188,352.92, she said.

“The politicians have had other ideas – not to give the schools money, but to administer tests,” said McLaren. “And this testing argument has been winning.”

The protesters complained that federal and state Common Core guidelines have forced the school to focus on exams and exam preparation, at the expense of history, art and music classes. Even recess has vanished from their children’s schedules, they complained.

Parents in poorer neighborhoods with limited resources commonly become heavily reliant on testing, McLaren said.

“In Park Slope they don’t care about test prep. They do gardening and cooking,” she said. “Private schools don’t teach to the tests because they know they don’t work. They’re not benefiting anyone but the companies and a move toward school privatization.”

One educational expert disagreed, however, saying testing provides an important measure of how productive classroom lessons are.

“I don’t call it test prep, I call it classroom prep,” said , said Brian Backstrom, former president of the nonprofit Foundation of Education Reform and Accountability, in a phone interview. “You need not do any test prep if you’re doing effective classroom teaching.” The use of one set of standards across the board creates a more fair education system, he said, adding that “One of the great benefits of Common Core is that it says there shouldn’t be different expectations based on economic or demographic backgrounds.”

However, parents at the rally said that state tests don’t help teachers to do right by their students because exam results aren’t released until the summer.

Devara Kaye, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said education officials are aware of the “legitimate concerns from parents and educators over previous years’ tests,” and that changes to the system are underway. Future exams will feature fewer questions, students will have more time to take the tests and teachers will have earlier access to the results, she said in an email.

“State tests bring important value for students, families, school staff and the city as a whole as we work to better instruction for all students, provide individualized support to struggling students and keep students on a path to success,” Kaye said.

But in the meantime, parents say it’s agonizing to see their children become so unnerved over testing.

“It stresses them out, my son hates school,” said Lisa Ortega, whose seven-year-old son is enrolled at P.S. 75.

“If they’re not doing something to their expectations, the teachers come down on them hard,” said Angel White, who has three kids in the school. “My son didn’t want to go to school anymore.”

“Back in the day it wasn’t so stressful, like they’ll fail in life if they don’t take the tests,” said Janira Perez, the mother of two students at P.S. 75.

The Opt Out movement has been growing across the state, said McLaren, pointing out that one in five students now chooses not to take the tests.

“We have a core group of parents opting out,” said Ortega. “We’re really gaining momentum.”

Bakcstrom disagreed with that strategy, saying that parents can benefit from test scores because those results can help them understand how their children are progressing.

“If a parent doesn’t want to know what a state assessment can tell them about their child, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’d want every bit of that data.”

Some parents at the rally said they’d hoped their children would participate in the event, but the kids were too busy making the most of a rare opportunity to play in the gymnasium.

“I’m happy – but not that happy,” said Carlos Sabater, 7.  “I only get recess once a week.”

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