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Photo: Courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Photo: Courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Why some North Country parents want kids to boycott state tests

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Students in grades three through eight across New York sat down Tuesday for the first of six days of state standardized tests in English and math. But not every student showed up to take the tests.

The parents of some children who oppose the state's increased use of standardized testing are refusing to let their kids take the assessments. The boycott is also tied to tougher education standards the state is implementing this year.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

Zoe Smith is one of several dozen Saranac Lake parents who have decided to opt their kids out of this year's tests. Smith, who has a third grader and a fifth grader, said she's frustrated with the state's growing reliance on standardized testing.

"I feel like it's sort of sucking the love of learning out of my kids," Smith said. "I see that with their teachers, too. A lot of teachers are losing, sort of, that love of teaching. I think it's creating this sour environment in our classrooms."

Another Saranac Lake parent, Vanessa Houghtlin, said her kids also won't take the tests. She said she's concerned about the extent of the district's curriculum that's driven by testing, and the fact that teachers are now being evaluated based in part on their students' test scores.

"I see it as a way to stand up for the teachers who can't teach using their own creativity and their own gifts, and to stand up for the kind of learning that is inhibited by this over-reliance on tests," Houghtlin said.

This anti-testing backlash isn't limited to Saranac Lake. Around the state, more parents than ever are refusing to let their children take the tests.

In part that's because this is the first year students in grades three through eight are taking tests tied to more challenging Common Core standards in math and English.

In a video posted last week on the state Education Department website, state officials said the tougher standards are needed to improve years of flat test scores in English and math.

John King is the state education commissioner.

"We're not fairing as well as we should be in the global marketplace," he said. "Too many of our graduates aren't prepared to succeed in college or their careers. The Common Core state standards are the answer to this problem."

But some teachers and principals have said they haven't had enough time, less than a year, to implement the new standards.

New York State United Teachers Union spokesman Carl Korn said the state hasn't provided teachers with all the lesson modules they need to prepare their students for the new tests.

"In the rush to test and to collect data, we are going to be putting students through the stress of testing them on material that they have not yet been taught, and that's just wrong," he said.

That stress is what concerns parents like Cheryl Lussier of Morrisonville. She said her son, a third grader, struggles with reading, and the new more difficult standards this year have only made things worse.

"My son failed every reading test up until March," she said. "That was creating a lot of stress in him. I saw lots of changes in behaviors. Lots of anxiety. Lots of tears."

Lussier said the focus on math and English has led to less time spent on social studies and science. She's decided have both of her kids skip the tests this year.

Not every parent, however, is on board with the boycott. In a letter to the editor of Tuesday's Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Dan Groves of Ray Brook said some teachers and parents at Petrova Elementary School in Saranac Lake, which his kids attend, are openly sharing their objections about state testing in front of students. Groves said it's a debate many kids can't fully comprehend and shouldn't be involved in.

But parents whose kids are boycotting the tests, like Zoe Smith, say this is the only way to get the state's attention.

"I think the only way they're going to even take a step back is for parents like us to come forward and say, 'We're not happy with this,'" Smith said.

Local school officials say they're trying to be supportive of parents who are concerned about the tests. Some, like Saranac Lake School Superintendent Gerald Goldman said the state needs to do the same.

"I think sooner or later the state is going to have to sit down and have a conversation with parents about this," he said. "We're all fond of saying that we should pay attention to what parents want and what parents need from their schools, but this will be a test of that."

Students who refuse the tests won't be punished, but schools could face sanctions if less than 95 percent of their students take the assessments.

 

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