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Common Core test refusal

Updated: 04/29/2014 9:26 AM
Created: 04/28/2014 2:50 PM WNYT.com
By: Jessica Layton

This week, thousands of third through eighth grade students across New York State will take their Common Core exams for math. However, hundreds of kids are sitting them out.

Common Core has been controversial from the start. The tests are creating a sense of even more conflict between some parents, their school districts and the state.

At the Presseisen home in Charlton, the Common Core conflict is on display every night.

Sasha Presseisen says homework time for third grader Calla is a struggle for the entire family. Fractions -- and the new requirements for "showing your work" have never been so frustrating.

Calla admits math isn't her favorite subject. However, until last year, her big brother Aven who loves math was always able to help when she got stumped. 

The new Common Core tutorials on YouTube often get them through the tears and the trying nights.

Presseisen feels the implementation of the new standards were fast tracked without much thought by the state or the school districts. 

“This is a flawed system right now,” she said. “I felt like things were getting snuck in and we were learning about it after.”

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Superintendent Patrick McGrath says in many ways -- the district is the middle man - caught between the state and the parents.

“I try to describe it as in some ways we're jumping on the treadmill that's already moving,” he explained. “That front line and trying to interpret the messages and changes for our parents. It's understandable they would be nervous or anxious about it – the most important thing in their whole world is their kids.”

School administrators have held several forums on Common Core. About 20 parents showed up to one of the forums that covered testing.

Still feeling powerless, Presseisen did the only thing she thought she still had control over in the process:

“In advocating for my child I am not allowing her to participate in any tests involving Common Core,” she explained.

She's among a handful of parents in that district who wrote an exam refusal letter to administrators.

“I just didn't want them being guinea pigs in all this,” she said.

The district respects the parents' decision. However, the letter sent home is clear. The school doesn't condone or agree with test refusal -- or as many refer to it -- opting out.

“We try hard to communicate to parents how important test information is for us, to help their son or daughter,” said McGrath.

He worries kids sitting out will have a tougher time in the future.

“Tests are a part of life. We do it in a gradual way, without putting a lot of anxiety and pressure on kids, and ease them in to more high stakes tests that happen in high school and college,” he said.

McGrath added the tests are low stakes for the kids -- they don't count toward grades. However, the stakes are higher for the district. Scores help determine district rankings. He says teacher evaluations are based in part on those exams.

“People read into test results and they make judgments about the quality of education -- is that fair all the time? I don't think it is, but it's a fact,” he said.

Presseisen was asked if she's worried she's hurting Aven and Calla in the long run by keeping them out of the tests.

“I'm hoping not, and I do in my head think, ‘What if?’ Then I'm like ‘No, this needs to be done,’” she answered.

She says there’s a lesson here that’s bigger than anything in that exam room or on a math sheet.

“I’m trying to teach them that they’ve got to stand up for what they believe in,” said Presseisen.

The kids who refuse to take the test are scored as a refusal. It's turning out to be about one to two percent of all eligible test takers.

At Burnt Hills, the kids are given a quiet place to read or do work while the majority of their peers take the exam.

You can refuse to have your child take the math tests by writing a letter up until the day testing starts.

The refusals for the math exams -- which start this week -- aren't all in yet. However, some numbers are in for the ELA Test:

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake: 24 students refused

Shenendehowa: 53 students refused

Albany: 74 students refused

Troy: 18 students refused

Schenectady: 9 students refused

Glens Falls: 27 students refused

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