The controversy surrounding the Common Core centralized academic standards is no longer limited to the standards and associated tests themselves. It is now extending to how some school districts, particularly in New York State, are handling children whose parents have opted them out of the assessments.
According to Common Core opponents, as many as 70 percent of students in the Empire State have been opted out of the assessments. As local ABC affiliate 13WHAM reported last week, some parents who have opted their children out of the Common Core-aligned tests have been told those students must “sit and stare,” or sit at their desks, without books or other work materials, while the other students take the 60 to 90-minute exams.
Williamsville Central School District has chosen the “sit and stare” policy for children who are opted out of the Common Core testing. Shirley Verrico, a parent in the district, spoke to Breitbart News about her experience.
“Many parents and teachers question the punitive nature of forcing kids to sit for 70, 80, and even 90 minutes at a time for six days,” Verrico said. “After fighting for my children’s right to read a book rather than do nothing for the past several months, I have to say the bigger story here is the breakdown in trust between parents and administration in these ‘sit and stare’ districts.”
Verrico said that many of the parents who have opted their children out of the testing are the same parents who have volunteered for countless hours of fundraising and other activities to support the school district.
“In return our district superintendent Dr. Scott Martzloff has dismissed us, misled us, and ultimately reneged on his promise to issue a policy in writing,” she said.
Verrico said that she is part of a group of 60 Williamsville district families that sent a letter to Martzloff in February asking him to allow children opted out of the tests to quietly read a book.
“We believe the high-stakes tests administered by NY State are both excessive and unnecessary, and the scores of these tests are being manipulated and misused to label students, teachers and schools as ‘failing,'” said Verrico.
She added that the tests are associated with the Common Core standards and curriculum, “all of which are untested, ill-conceived and very costly.”
Verrico said her school district has spent over $1 million implementing Common Core, though it received only a little over $70,000 in Race to the Top funding.
“Along with many parents in our region, we parents have decided to have our children refuse the tests, which is our right under the law,” she said. “Our refusal letters included the legal support of our request and outlined our plan of action if the policy was not changed.”
Verrico told Breitbart News that when Martzloff did not respond to their letter, a group of parents tried to arrange a meeting with him, and though a meeting time was scheduled, the parents suddenly heard from his office that it was “district policy” that the superintendent would not meet with “groups” of parents, and the meeting was cancelled.
Verrico said she was not able to locate such a policy in writing. Then, after more communication with Martzloff’s office, meeting dates were offered in late March, just days before the actual testing was to begin on April 1.
“Because the testing began April 1, meeting at this late date appeared to be a delay tactic leaving no time to effectively change the policy at issue, and thus was simply counter-productive,” said Verrico. “We elected not to meet and began legal proceedings.”
Then, Verrico said she received a call from Martzloff’s office to schedule a meeting for March 6.
Verrico said that during the meeting Martzloff said he would make a tentative compromise and confirm in writing his policy by March 10.
“The compromise was that students who came to school on the six test days and refuse the test will sit and stare at their desks for the full exam time,” she said. “Students who sent in the refusal letter could stay home the morning of the exam, however this would be recorded as an illegal tardy.”
Verrico said that Martzloff’s office never provided any written policy for parents. However, she said parents received phone calls from their school administrators informing them of new policies.
“During my March 21 phone conversation with my child’s principal, Dan Walh, I was told that not only would children refusing to take the NYSED standardized tests be required to sit and stare during the administration of the test each morning,” stated Verrico, “but also that any child refusing to take the test that was kept home by a parent during that portion of the school day would be required to sit and stare for the same amount of time upon their return to school later that same day, even if that child were to miss classroom instruction as a result.”
Breitbart News reached out to Dr. Martzloff’s office for comment, and was told Rita Wolff, Williamsville Central Communications Director, would respond, but no return calls were received.
Amy Blair, a parent from the Lancaster, New York school district, told Breitbart News that she opted her children out of the Common Core-aligned tests after months of research about the standards, and even discussions with principals who told her the assessments were flawed.
“My husband and I determined we would refuse these tests on behalf of our children,” Blair said. “We sent out letters of refusal to the proper channels, but, quite frankly, only my third grader’s teacher responded and said she would let us know what the principal at her school decided.”
Blair said that even though their parent activist group had been unable to change the “sit and stare” policy, she and her husband decided they would leave their children in the class. She said she hoped they would at least take the children who had opted out of the testing to the library or the office to read quietly.
“Instead, my daughter was the only one in her class who sat there,” Blair said. “And a proctor in my son’s class told students that if they refused the tests, they would not be placed in advanced classes.”
“The ‘sit and stare’ to me is just another attempt to guilt the children into taking the tests,” Blair said. “The tests sat on their desks the entire time. They could have participated at any point.”
Blair said she and her husband have talked with their children about refusing the tests as an act of civil disobedience, and that sometimes such action is necessary to make positive changes.
“When our voices are no longer being heard, our actions perhaps can speak louder,” she said.