Parents, students protest Common Core with exam opt-outs

Last week, students and parents in New Paltz and Highland protested what they see as excessive standardized testing. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Last week, students and parents in New Paltz and Highland protested what they see as excessive standardized testing. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Last week, students and parents in New Paltz and Highland protested what they see as excessive standardized testing under the Common Core standards by refusing to take state reading exams. According to New Paltz Superintendent Maria Rice, on April 1 — the first day of testing — 19.8 percent of students at Lenape Elementary School refused the English language arts test. At New Paltz Middle School, 24 percent of students sat out the test too.

Under a recently instituted district policy, if students in New Paltz refuse to take a test or come with a parental permission letter, they’re free to leave the exam room to read a book or magazine.


“It was a little hectic in the morning, because we got a lot of new letters in. Some students were refusing at the table. Some students were calling their parents, asking their parents to contact the school so they could refuse. Parents saying, ‘I want you to take it’ and kids not wanting to take it. It was very interesting,” Rice said.

Language tests for grades 3-8 lasted until the end of last week, so the final numbers were expected to be slightly different. New Paltz school administrators are preparing a complete report on opt-outs for the first school board meeting in May.

According to the group NYS Allies for Public Education, which opposes high-stakes testing, statewide at least 30,000 kids refused to take the ELA exams this year. Brooklyn and Long Island were key hotspots for the protest, but Red Hook and New Paltz had high refusal rates too.

Bianca Tanis, of New Paltz, is a teacher in Rockland County and a mother of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. She’s involved in Allies for Public Education, but also the local group Rethinking Testing.

Kids with disabilities or special education needs struggle under the new tests, Tanis said, adding that she’s seen it firsthand as a special ed teacher.

The thought of what her son might go through urged her on. “It was really upsetting. I could imagine what it would look like,” she said. “He loves school. He’s made so much progress, but he was reading way below grade level.

“So the idea of taking this child, who is very innocent and loves school, putting him in a room with a test that he can’t read — he would look at his teacher and say, ‘Help me’ in this very innocent, happy way. She would be forced to say, ‘I can’t help you. Just do your best.’ I just could not fathom that happening to him.”

Her crusade to get her son out of the testing room helped prompt a wider protest in New Paltz. It also spurred the Board of Education to adopt that policy.

At first, when she called the school to pull her son out of the state testing, administrators told her he was mandated to take the test. “I was told he’d have to come to school for all three days of the test, say the words ‘I refuse’ and then come on all three makeup days and say ‘I refuse’ on those days.”

It left her and other parents who objected to the tests feeling frustrated and alone. “Last year, a lot of us felt like people looked at us like we were crazy,” she said. “So much has changed in a year.”

There are 2 comments

  1. Amy Cohen

    The fact is kids whose parents wrote the letter & refused the tests were forced to sit @ their desks & read for 2 hours.
    Personally, I think the kids would have been better off if they could have gone to study hall, the library, playtime etc
    Sitting for 2 hours in the room with those taking the tests seems heartless.

    1. BY

      We know the test is hard. And we know that so much protest is people taking the easy way out. Our competitiveness globally is suffering because our kids can’t. They have it too easy. We do not challenge them nearly enough in basic skills, nor do we expect enough from them as growing young adults. Sure, folks can holler and complain all they want but in the end it is the student who fears being challenged and is only reinforced in that “can’t do” attitude by their parents who will in fact suffer in the end.

      We should be expecting and frankly requiring parents and students to do more! Parents need to get involved in a positive and on-going way, not just when they want to protest something. Students should be expected to perform and take on new challenges every day.

      Hiding from a test is foolish and the furor over this only demonstrates that people would rather invest time in not doing something than buckling down and doing it. I expect more from our community. A quick scan of the media and the complaints and it is easy – very easy – to say if people had dedicated as much to preparing for the tests than standing in meetings complaining our kids would have not only learned something, they would prove nay-sayers wrong and do quite well, thank you.

      And yes – I’ve seen the test, I’ve talked to teachers, I know all about it – and it is wrong that we are not striving to achieve instead of dragging our feet to avoid.

Comments are closed.