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Common core opting out ramps up, but not enough to worry the test’s advocates

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- As Common core testing began Tuesday for more than a million elementary and middle school students throughout New York state, thousands of families chose to opt out.  Their numbers were exponentially larger than they were during Common Core testing a year ago, but because the opt out students still only make up a fraction of public school children, Common Core advocates were not indicating any concern about the exam going away.

Those advocates also insist that New York's public school teachers are not teaching to the test, but the comments of multiple students at PS 81 in Riverdale indicates otherwise.

"We've been working for like three and a half months, so it's pretty easy," said third grader Natalie Salem about the time her class had been taking practice tests and otherwise preparing to take the exam, which is administered for an hour and ten minutes every day, for six days.

The classroom time devoted to taking the exam was among a list of reasons that Common Core critics cited for opting out of the test.

"The fact that this is going to be 50 percent of the teacher evaluation," said Laura Reidy, a parent of three students in White Plains, "It was enough for us."  She was referring to an as-yet unfinalized proposal from New York governor Andrew Cuomo to heavily weigh Common Core results in rating teacher performance.

Reidy is one of thousands of parents statewide who have chosen to opt their kids from taking the exam this year.  She pointed out that the number of opted out students increased at least sevenfold at her children's school.  Still, that only means just under a couple of dozen kids out of a few hundred overall.

"It's a small number," Reidy said, "but it's 18 more than last year."

Tara Palmer opted out her children as well, at their school in Yorktown.  "We already know, two years in to it, it's not working.  The curriculum is poorly designed, the tests themselves are flawed, they're full of errors." She said that the increased number of opted out students should send a clear message to Albany that parents' concerns about the high stakes test provoking stress, worry and fear are valid.

Lisa Rudley has opted all three of her children out, and feels so strongly against the Common Core exam that she formed an opt-out support organization, called New York State Allies for Public Education.  "We can refuse the test," she told PIX11 News about her group's mission, "We can deny [education officials] the data and say, 'This is not what we want.'  If it's not good for the best private schools in the nation, it shoudn't be good enough for any of our kids."

Her organization is part of a coalition of groups encouraging families to opt out.  But another coalition supports the test.  They say it's only an assessment to see how well students are learning more demanding material.  They point out that Common Core is a set of high educational standards that are tested.

"Toward the end of the year," said High Achievement New York executive director Stephen Sigmund in a recent interview, "you assess how well individual kids are doing toward getting to those standards.  If you teach to the test, you're setting up the kids for failure."

Third grader Natalie Salem did not give any indication that she felt like a failure in the wake of Tuesday's testing, for which she and her classmates had devoted some class time over fourteen weeks preparing.  Critics call that teaching to the test.  Natalie's mother viewed it a different way.

"By the time she finishes school," said Violetta Salem, "she will have plenty of tests, so the earlier she gets used to them the better."

English Language Arts Common Core testing continues through this week.  Math testing is Wednesday through Friday of next week.

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