The Putnam Examiner

Common Core Testing Chided Loudly at Brewster Forum

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By Neal Rentz

State standardized tests for elementary age students were sharply criticized as both unfair to students and teachers during a forum held at the VFW Post 672 in Brewster last Thursday.

Panelists participating in “Reclaiming Public Education” went so far as to say they were refusing to have their children take the tests and a proposed law in the state Legislature would assure that parents, teachers and school districts would not be penalized for not having students take the exams, which are an outgrowth of the federal Common Core program.

The moderator of the event was Christine Zirkelbach, a parent in the Brewster School District, who has been a vocal critic of state standardized tests. Zirkelbach said the individual needs of students are not being addressed with the excessive focus on standardized tests in elementary schools as part of the Common Core. Educational needs are “unique to that child,” she said.

Zirkelbach said her son, who was a special education student with autism when he attended eighth grade, struggled with the standardized test because it was not appropriate for him.

Rebecca Hegenauer, a parent who has been a music educator for 20 years, joined the other panelists in chiding the standardized tests, saying they were flawed.

Pearson, the company that provides the standardized elementary level tests in the state, has stated that it expected that about 30 percent of students would be able to pass them and that is what has happened, she said.

Students in the state have less time to get adequate instruction in science and other areas including art, music and gym because of the increased focus on preparing for standardized elementary level tests, Hegenauer said. Physical activities have been reduced because of the increasing test prep focus, she said. “Kids have to move, that’s part of their development,” she said.

Anthony Cardinale, an elementary school teacher in the Carmel School District, said the standardized tests are unfair for both students and teachers. For example, the recent test for third grade students provided reading samples that were on a seventh grade level “These tests tell me nothing,” he said, adding the exams are not about what “students really know.”

The standardized exams are also unfair to educators because 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation could be based on the flawed tests, Cardinale said. As a result, teachers could unfairly lose their jobs as a result of two years of failing student results on the tests, he said.

Lisa Rudley, an Ossining School District parent and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, said she opposed the “test-based standards” of the Common Core. In other nations, standardized tests are not given until high school, she said.

Rudley and other panelist said if parents wished, they should refuse to take the standardized tests. Her fourth grade son will not be taking the tests, she said.

TJ McCormack, director of community outreach for state Sen. Terence Murphy, said legislation is before the state Legislature that would provide protections for student who refuse to take the elementary level standardized Common Core tests. Some elements of the “Common Core Parent Refusal Act,” include a new requirement having districts notify parents about their right to refuse the tests for their children; assuring that school districts and individual schools not be punished because students are refusing to take the exams; mandating that students neither be rewarded or punished for the participation or non-participation in the tests; that alternative study programs be provided for children when their peers are taking the exams; and prohibit teachers from being penalized for lack of student participation and performance on the tests.

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