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Family opts out of ‘bullying’ Common Core exams

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SOUNDVIEW, The Bronx (PIX11) — At three schools in Brooklyn, more than 70 percent of students opted out from taking the required New York State common core exam Tuesday.  It was a much different scene in the Bronx, where it seemed like every family had their children take the days-long battery of tests.  One family, though, was an exception, three times over.

“To have rigorous testing in the early grades is pretty concerning,” said Rosa Perez-Rivera, mother of five children, three of whom were scheduled to take the common core.  “I don’t think it’s looking out for the whole child,” she said.

She and her husband, Fernando Rivera, lead a family that’s similar to so many others in our area.  They spend their mornings juggling the kids’ different wake up times, and varied start times of the four different schools their children attend.

The thing that three of the Rivera children had in common was their disinterest in taking the common core.

“It’s not fair that we get to take a test for three days,” said Daniel Rivera, 12.  His school, a charter academy in Riverdale, follows the New York State Department of Education guidelines and administers the English Language Arts portion of the exam for 70 minutes a day, three days this week.  Then, next week, it — and every other New York City public school — has students sit for the Mathematics portion of the exam, which lasts 70 minutes a day for three days as well.

That schedule is, therefore, repeated at the schools of Daniel’s brother Mathew, 13, and sister Sophia, 8.

“[It’s not] developing their creativity, arts, music, science,” said Perez-Rivera.

At all three schools where her children were scheduled to take the exams, she’d presented DOE-approved documents that required the schools to allow her children to opt out of the exams, and required the schools to provide an alternate plan for her children during testing times, without penalty.

Still, there was no guarantee that would happen, as evidenced by the limbo the family found itself in as Daniel, a seventh grader, left to catch his school bus, while his mother and father prepared to take most of the rest of their other kids to school.

Intermediate school comon core

“En route, dropping off the girls,'” said Perez-Rivera, “we’ll find out if Daniel is going to take the common core exam or not.”  They still had not been told their middle child’s testing status when he’d arrived at his school on the other side of the Bronx.

They only learned the information while waiting for a Metrobus to take three of their other children to school.  Their oldest son, Andrew, 17, is on scholarship at a parochial school which does not require the common core exam.  Their youngest child, Sophia, 5, is in kindergarten, where the exam is not given.

While waiting for the BX-6 bus, Perez-Rivera got the call from Daniel’s school.  “He’s not going to take the test today?” Perez-Rivera confirmed, as her husband gave a big thumbs up.

Both of their daughters attend a school in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, about two miles from home.  Their school decided on Monday to let third grader Sophia spend this week’s testing days in class with second graders, who aren’t being tested.  And again, their youngest daughter is too young for the test.

As for their eighth grader, “I’m going over to Mathew’s school in person to see if he’ll suffer a lateness for this day,” said his mother.

The school allowed him to come in late, without penalizing him, so that he didn’t have to be in class while everyone else was taking the exam.  That was for Tuesday only.  As for the rest of the week, “He’s going to a 9th grade class right now,” his mother told PIX11 News.  There, “it’s up to Mathew to decide if he wants to participate,” she said.

“There’s just a lot of running around,” she added, referring to the lengths to which she and her husband had to go to ensure that their requests to have their children be excluded from testing.  “And it’s kind of frustrating,” she continued, with a heavy sigh.

When asked, however, if it’s worth all of their efforts to keep their three children from having to take the days of exams, the parents listed effects that extensive, rigorous testing can have on children.

“The anxiety, the questioning, the concerns,” said Perez-Rivera.

“We feel that by not taking this test, it’s going to help [our children] more than hurt them,” said Rivera.

“I’m not against testing,” his wife added.  The couple’s views are consistent with some Brooklyn opt-out groups, of which Perez-Rivera’s sister is an active member.

Those groups, whose efforts resulted in three Brooklyn schools having more than 70 percent of their students opt out, have been all but assured that their children will be advanced to the next grade based on a variety of assessments.  Those include their grades, a portfolio showing the quality of students’ work and comprehension and, in some cases, the results of a 60 minute city-wide test, which is brief compared to the 7 hour common core exam administered over two weeks’ time.

“I’m not really against [testing],” Perez-Rivera repeated.  “What I am against is what’s like bullying, [where] you have to get a good score.  It’s not who you are.”

If statistics from Brooklyn are any indication, the Rivera Family may be pioneering a significant trend in the Bronx.  At the main Brooklyn school leading the drive for parents to opt out, only about 1 percent of families opted out last year.  This year, it was 67 percent.

The Department of Education did not respond to PIX11’s request for comment about the common core exam and about families opting out of it.

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