(Buffalo, N.Y.) — There is growing controversy, debate and opposition surrounding standardized Common Core testing for students in grades three through eight in New York state. The English language arts (or ELA) tests began April 5 and the math assessments start April 13.
Last year, a record number of students — more than 220,000 across the state — opted out of taking the tests. Many parents feel that these tests are counterproductive and don’t provide a competent gauge of a child’s abilities.
“A standardized test is supposed to compare one population against another regardless of the teaching that is going on,” said Wendy Patterson, dean of the School of Education at SUNY Buffalo State. “(The tests) are not responsive to changes in instruction,” she told the Buffalo Review.
In the West Seneca school district, roughly 71 percent of students opted out of taking the assessments in 2015. In response to the opposition, changes were made to this year’s assessments, which are shorter and have no time limits. Despite the changes, many students are still expected to opt out of the assessments once again this year.
Patterson, a former elementary school teacher, has seen a significant increase in the number of state assessments being administered in recent years and feels the increasing volume is a concern for teachers and parents alike.
“It’s not that tests are unusual in education, they certainly have their uses, but over the past five to 10 years, there have been more and more assessments required of all students in New York State,” Patterson said. “The more instructional time you take to test; you are not instructing; you’re not providing value. There need to be fewer tests. The frequency of the tests is what most parents are having a really hard time with.”
“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a test. I believe in testing as assessment, but what assessment needs to include is varied, depending on the circumstance,” said Shirley Verrico from the advocacy group Western New Yorkers for Public Education, a grassroots group of parents and educators that has concerns about the testing in its current form.
“I often liken it going to your doctor’s office and stepping on the scale. That can tell you what you weigh, but it doesn’t tell you whether or not you’re healthy, or whether or not you have a chronic illness. It’s just a number and it has to be used in context with many other things and that’s not how the state is using that data,” said Verrico.
“Something we hear in education terms is that tests need to be prescriptive. So when my child comes home with a test and perhaps they didn’t do as well as I would have liked, I need to see the question. I need to see the answer that my child gave and I need to know what the correct answer is in order to diagnose what my child did incorrectly and ratify that,” Verrico said.
* Producer Clifton Robinson and Joseph Kasko contributed to this report.