Why we’re refusing the Common Core tests

Nicholas Tampio is an education blogger and an associate professor of political science at Fordham University.  His writing can be found on the Huffington Post.  This piece first appeared on http://www.lohud.com/

Why we’re refusing the Common Core tests

Our family is refusing the Common Core state tests in the spring. We refuse the tests because they weaken local control of the schools, pressure teachers to use a flawed pedagogy and facilitate a collection of data that may harm teachers and students.

Loss of local control

The Common Core transfers educational decisions from the school district to private foundations and the federal government. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Obama administration collaborated to nationalize the Common Core. The Gates Foundation paid for the writing of the standards and for groups such as the PTA to promote them. The federal government, in turn, used the Race to the Top program to incentivize states to adopt the standards as well as aligned assessments.

New York, for instance, won a $700 million Race to the Top grant that both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch have used as a rationale for why New York must stick with the Common Core.

To be clear, we see a valuable role for the federal government and disapprove of certain educational policies adopted by states in the past. But that is no reason to abandon America’s historical commitment to the principle of local control of schools. Educators and parents in our district have more knowledge of, and investment in, our students than do foundations or the federal government.

Our Westchester school district has been thriving—with the vast majority of graduates going to four-year colleges, including some of the finest in the country. It makes no sense for our district’s students to be guinea pigs in a poorly conceived experiment.

New Yorkers deserve a better educational system than one geared toward testing the Common Core education standards. In 2010, the state education commissioner signed a memorandum of understanding to join a Common Core testing consortium before the standards were finalized. At the same time, New York discarded another, perhaps better, set of educational standards that sought to minimize the role of standardized testing. Everyday, it seems, more and more parents such as comedian Louis C.K. or NPR reporter Anya Kamenatz are going public with their criticisms of the Common Core and demanding a better educational model.

Furthermore, the tests themselves may be flawed. According to Brooklyn principal Elizabeth Phillips, the Common Core tests are confusing and include age-inappropriate questions. An increasing number of New York principals also object to how the amount of standardized testing has increased as a result of the Common Core.

The person who may know the most about the Common Core in New York is former Commissioner of Education John King, and he sends his own children to a private Montessori school. According to the school’s homepage, Woodland Hills personalizes the curriculum to each child and uses narrative assessments rather than standardized tests. This seems to be an admirable model for all New York students rather than just for children whose parents can afford private schools.

Data collection

Standards, testing and data collection are different, but in the Race to the Top framework, they are interlocked. For instance, the Common Core tests facilitate the Annual Professional Performance Review that evaluates teachers based, in part, on whether their students’ test scores grow at the appropriate rate. According to the American Statistical Association, this approach to measurement, called value-added modeling, is bad science. As parents, we worry that this approach pressures teachers to teach to the test rather than to the talents and interests of the particular child.

We also worry about the government’s collection of personally identifiable information about students. As a result of the U.S. Department of Education’s change to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations, the Common Core testing consortia may now share this information with the federal government, thereby circumventing laws against creating a national student database.

Time for a change

Our family believes in intellectual excellence and academic achievement, but the Common Core tests are a flawed element in a corrupt system. We hope that the governor and the Board of Regents chart a new course for New York’s educational system, one that cultivates the joy of learning rather than prepares children for standardized tests.

We are sorry for any trouble this may cause our school district, but sometimes parents need to fight for kids, both their own and others.

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