Making the Grade – The Common Core Controversy
Whether or not you’re the parent of a child in school, you have undoubtedly heard about the uproar surrounding the Common Core tests. They are mandatory for every child in public school in New York State.
An Oneida parent is now speaking out, calling the tests a ‘terrible burden.’ We are also getting a unique perspective from the heads of two private schools who have made very different decisions when given the choice of whether to administer the tests.
For public school students like Elijah Scuderi, standardized testing is not a choice. Or so many thought until parents like his mother Royale started speaking up.
Elijah went to Otto Shortell Middle School in Oneida the day he was expected to take the common core tests. But when the other students picked up their pencils, Elijah put his down. “You always feel pressure because you don’t want to mess up,” he said.
Elijah hopes to be an aerospace engineer one day. He loves math, science and social studies, especially history. But he spends much of his days preparing for a test. “They’re definitely focusing on the tests and trying to get you prepared and making sure you do your best,” he said.
“A lot of it is teaching to the test. They have to teach to the test,” his mother Royale said. And that is why his mother is finally speaking out, saying enough is enough. She is opting him out of the tests and joining a growing grassroots movement against state testing. For Scuderi, this is all so very personal. After all, it is her son’s education at stake. She seems opting out as an act of civil disobedience, a way to send a message to the state. “I think it’s time for me to say enough. I have a problem with this and I can’t expect the school district or the state to know that I have a problem with this until I raise my hand and say no we’re not going to do this,” Scuderi said.
Joining the voices speaking out against the tests is Scott Wiggins, the head of Manlius Pebble Hill. He has been following the push back from teachers and parents and supports their fight. “If I’m a faculty member and I have 10 kids in my classroom and that’s going to determine my livelihood as whether I’m going to have a job next year, then job number one for me is going to be to get those kids prepared for that test,” Wiggins said.
Teachers do not face that same pressure at private schools like MPH which are not mandated to administer the tests. While public and charter schools must administer the tests, private schools have the option. And what they choose to do depends on the school. Students at Faith Heritage and Manlius Pebble Hill do not take the tests. Those at Christian Brothers Academy do take them along with students at schools in the Syracuse Diocese including Bishop Grimes, Bishop Ludden and IC.
At MPH, Wiggins believes students should develop a love of learning rather than cramming pieces of data into their heads. “What about expanding your opportunities. What about pushing yourself in different areas. I’d like to learn about this. Wait, we’ve got to focus on this because this is what’s going to be tested,” he said.
That, Wiggins fears, is the state’s biggest mistake, stifling kids’ appetite for lifelong learning. Tests, he says, have a place, but should not be used for accountability, determining raises and whether teachers keep their jobs. “The sky needs to be the limit. Kids need to have the opportunity to be creative and teachers have to have the opportunity to be able to help kids find their own passions and to explore their academic and intellectual interests and that can’t do it when they have to stay on this track,” he said.
It is a different philosophy within schools at the Syracuse Diocese. Christopher Mominey, the Superintendent of Schools for the Syracuse Diocese views the tests very differently. He supports state testing, saying he believes in the intrinsic value of it and the benefit it gives students. “We’ve just decided that state testing is one of those tools that will help us improve the education,” said Mominey. “We are able to do a deep dive into the data to see where our kids missed, where our kids need help, where we can improve our instruction, so that’s invaluable to us.”
When given the choice to administer the tests, the Diocese decided to give them, saying it helps students remain competitive. “I think it keeps our kids at a competitive advantage. There’s no question that if we dropped Regents or if we dropped other state tests, that our kids would be at a deficit to their peers,” Mominey said.
Mominey believes not giving the tests puts kids a step behind other students. Giving them, he says, helps with teacher development, and gives parents a sense of how their child is doing. “As long as it’s driving our instructional agenda, then great and as long as it’s keeping our kids at a competitive advantage. The moment that we put our kids at a disadvantage, I think then we’ll look in a different direction,” he said.
For its part, the state says the tests play an important role in holding school districts accountable, making sure teachers are doing their jobs and students are making the grade. The State Education Department has said, “The goal is to make certain that all students are on track to succeed in college and have meaningful careers when they graduate high school. Parents who keep their children from taking these tests are essentially saying, ‘I don’t want to know where my child stands, and we think that’s doing them a real disservice.”
But public school parents like Royal Scuderi are not buying it. She believes there is a place for tests, but feels they should not be tied to funding and certainly should not carry so much weight. As she joins the growing chorus of parents protesting, Scuderi hopes the state will be forced to listen. “I think we’re starting to get close to a tipping point where the state is going to have to say ok we hear you,” she said.
Do you support the Common Core tests or would you consider opting out your child? How well would you do on the tests? Click here for a sample test to see how you would would do.