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Some NYC, L.I. Parents Say Their Kids Are Opting Out Of Common Core Tests

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Some parents have just said no to standardized tests.

On Thursday, parents from several schools rallied in Harlem to announce they were opting out of Common Core tests for their children. They held signs reading, “more teaching, more art, more gym, and less testing.”

“We need to stand up and we need to let the New York State Education Department know that that is enough,” said Jasmine Batista, a parent of a third and fifth grader.

Parents claim too much time is spent on test prep at the expense of learning.

Donnie Rotkin, who has been teaching for 30 years and is now an instructional coach, said schools have become so test-centric they have distorted learning.

“Critical thinking and questioning about the world we live in, curiosity about how the world works, these are no longer at the center of teaching and learning,” Rotkin said.

Parent Gretchen Murgenthaler’s son, who is a sixth grader at the Amistad Dual Language School, opted out last year, and is doing the same this year.

“They’ve been focusing on test prep for the last four weeks, my son has not taken part in that, instead I’ve urged his teacher to give him some real things to do,” Murgenthaler said.

Parents said over 100 families in Hamilton Heights have signed opt-out letters.

“In my son’s class, 20 out of 23 students have opted out,” said Kimberly Casteline, parent of a third grader. “That means that teacher doesn’t have to spend a whole week or more teaching kids how to bubble in little circles with a No. 2 pencil. She can teach, what a concept!”

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Thursday, the opt-out movement has also been growing on Long Island. Joey Sharpe, 11, will refuse to taken the state-mandated tests next week.

“What choice do we have but to refuse the tests?” Joey’s mother said.

“We’ve tried everything else. It’s the only way,” his father added. “If everyone opts out, it has to go away.”

Other parents nationwide have opted out of standardized tests for grades 3 through 8, deeming them unnecessary and expensive. In New York state, where the Common Core curriculum has been blasted as rushed and flawed, opting out is now a strategy to get the attention of lawmakers in Albany.

“The exams feed the Common Core. The Common Core thrives on data,” said Mary Calamia, founder of the group Long Islanders United Against the Common Core. “The exams feed the beast, and we have to cut off the food supply.”

Comsewogue School Supt. Dr. Joe Rella also took issue with the exams.

“If it’s a rigged game, you don’t play,” he said.

Rella said the tests are unfair, and he expects more than half of his lower-grade students to sit out.

“Parents’ concerns — they expressed these concerns — have been systematically ignored by the state Education Department, so parents took matters into their own hands,” he said.

Rella said parents are not asking permission to opt out, they are just doing it. And Rella has also provided the venue for the parents to vent – the Comsewogue High School football field will host a rally from the anti-Common Core testing group iRefuse on Saturday.

Parents have written letters and instructed their kids to refuse to take the test. Last year, only a small fraction did that, but this year, many said it is their last resort and a real life lesson for children.

“The lesson is to do what’s right; think for yourself,” said Dina Lodi of West Islip.

A state Department of Education spokesman said the Common Core assessments offer an opportunity for educators and parents to gauge the progress a child is making toward the standards. Why wouldn’t a parent want to know how well his or her child is doing?”

And the U.S. Department Education has advised parents that opting out could hurt a school’s ability to meet the 95 percent test participation rate required by law.

Earlier this month, a state panel recommended ending standardized “bubble” tests for grades K-2, banning state test results from grades 3-8 on a student’s permanent records, limiting test prep time in class, preparing teachers better and halting plans to store student data on the Internet.

The recommendations do not include any changes to teacher evaluations or to the controversial curriculum itself.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said he would review the recommendations which could then be introduced as legislation, but state testing of students grades 3-8 are expected to proceed as planned in May.

Testing begins Tuesday.

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