Monday, April 14, 2014

My son, 8 years old, 3rd grade
By:  April Gredder DeFrancesco

 Hello, I am so sorry I missed your call yesterday. I understand that you both have some serious concerns regarding the message, retold to you by my son, about his homework requirements, and how they relate to the decision made by me, to refuse him taking the CCLS state tests, and whether or not he was accurate in relaying my message. You also notified me that you "knew what kind of parent I am", and that "surely I think he needs to continue his work, to continue to progress nicely so he can meet Common Core standards, and how important it must be to me that my son does well."

Let me begin by saying, I am quite impressed with my son's capability to relay my message to you pretty accurately. When he asked if that's what he can tell his teachers, I advised him to yes, stand up for yourself, as long as it is done quietly and respectfully. However, I did not tell him he didn't have to do any more homework because he is not taking NYS CCLS exams. I did advise him however, that we will no longer be tortured every single night, to complete pages in books that state their purpose is to be a review program for the Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics or ELA tests. But other than that, he nailed his answer to your question right on the head. These books are filled with practice tests, each practice test had 69 Math questions, (61 multiple choice, 5 short response and 3 extended response questions), stating that going forward the teacher will explain how you will do the practice tests, and they will record your answers. Making sure to fill in bubbles completely in the process. Also, throughout the book, their are little testing tips for answering questions. My reasoning is... Let's return to the homework matter in a bit.

On January 13, 2014, I sent in letters to the school administration, and his teachers, alerting the school of my intention to exercise my parental rights regarding this matter. Just to be clear, District 31, does not have my permission to administer any state or district mandated standardized benchmark assessments to my child, Grade 3. It is my understanding that in place of these, my sons progress will be assessed using a portfolio, a gathering of all of his teacher directed tests, writings, reading levels, etc. for him to be evaluated on. And, no, my child cannot be held back, based solely on the fact he refuses state tests, unless he is taking regents exams. Also, District 31 does not have my permission to administer to my son:

•Any surveys, or “field tests” given by corporate or government entities or testing companies.
 •Any progress- monitoring or RTI assessments such as Aimsweb
 •Any exam used to formulate an evaluation or score for our children’s teachers or their school.
•Any state assessment •Any so-called “benchmark” exams, whether they are teacher-designed or not, since these exams are imposed by entities other than the individual teacher. I trust the teacher, not the entities.
 •Pre-assessments connected to “Student Learning Objectives”. Citing the law of this country, remember when we used to learn about laws?..."Federal law states that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.”

Now, the changes brought upon public education by the Common Core Standards, that's a whole different story. The people who made these decisions claim that the goal of the Common Core is to ensure that all children are college/career ready. It's a nice sentiment. On some level, I get it. Even the playing field and teach the same core standards to kids across the board to narrow the gap. It makes sense on paper. But in practice? Not so much. So far, the Common Core appears to be putting fear into dedicated teachers -- they, the very people who care about, teach, and protect our children. I happen to know a lot of teachers. These are people who used to stay up entirely too late each night planning fun and engaging lessons for the following day. These are people who hide first grade students in cabinets and sing them songs to keep them calm while a shooter wreaks havoc on their school. Sadly, sometimes sacrificing their lives for the lives of their students, whom they feel a love and a deep responsibility for. Forget about all of that. Dedication and sacrifice mean nothing anymore in today's world.

Today's teachers are being forced to follow a script. They "teach to tests" and fear job loss if they don't see the expected results. The result of this test giving, job loss fearing style of teaching is written all over the faces of the little kids caught in the transition. The people behind the Common Core might think that they are ensuring college/career readiness, but what they are really ensuring is a generation of anxious robotic children who can memorize answers but don't know how to think. Many teachers say pressure to prepare students for more rigorous Common Core tests means the youngest children are now required to do work that is wildly age-inappropriate. Examples include reading passages and questions that until now would be assigned to much older students, as well as confusing, overly difficult math problems. The tests and test prep, say parents and teachers, are crushing morale and self-confidence, while generating hatred of school. As far as my son goes, it is turning him off of school and if this trend continues, he will be far from college- and career-ready because he will want nothing to do with college. Is it wrong to say Common Core is ruining childhood? Hmmmmm... Increased stress: Yes, tests and quizzes are part of school, but the pressure to perform is very high right now. Stress trickles down. When teachers are under stress, kids internalize it. They really are smarter than we think. With this hyper-focus on the core areas of learning and the constant testing to ensure that the material is being memorized (I mean understood, of course), kids are constantly under pressure to perform. Add a trickle down stress factor to that and kids begin to fall apart. Anxiety disorders among children are already on the rise. But who cares if those statistics skyrocket, right? In a few years, Valium and Xanax will be the normal coping mechanism for a school day. Creativity is dead: Learning has always included textbooks and spelling tests at the elementary school level. That's part of the deal. But it used to be that kids were given the opportunity to tap into their creative brains. I wrote my first "hardcover" book in second grade. I still remember how confident I felt when my little story about a magical teddy bear who could fly, evolved into an actual book. Ahhh, those were the days.

Busywork is the name of the game with the Common Core. Kids need to write and rewrite spelling words and sentences until their hands practically fall off, but if they do fall off, don't be absent. You are missing 4th grade level algebra. They need to correct sentences that they didn't write because they don't really have the time to come up with their own sentences. Homework includes work packets with more of the same. And don't forget to study for those practice tests! Forget about problem solving, group work, and thinking outside the box, these kids need to memorize the core curriculum first. It's as if creativity holds no merit. Are you familiar with Steve Jobs? There are people who do exactly what they have to do to get by, and there are people who work harder and end up changing the world. Don't we want to inspire kids to be thought leaders and world changers? Inadequate time to socialize: You know what's really taken a hit in recent years? Recess. Some schools don't have it at all. Recess is when kids truly practice social skills. They take turns. They negotiate. They initiate friendships. They learn to cope with disappointment. Sometimes they work together. Sometimes they don't. But either way, they learn to work it out. But not if they don't have recess. Not if they don't spend any free time with their peers. There's just not enough time in an instructional day, duh! Makes me wonder how in the world there is so much bullying, physical altercations, and school shootings occurring on a daily basis. I wonder??? Poor eating habits and insufficient exercise: You can't turn on the TV or open a magazine without hearing about obesity in America these days. It's a problem. And yet, a school lunch is often 15-20 minutes long, forcing kids to wolf down food before the bell rings. So much for listening to hunger cues and chatting with friends -- there is no time for that. TEST PREP COMES FIRST, PEOPLE! TEACH TO TEST!! And then there's PE. Some school districts have completely cut physical education due to budget issues. Where is all that money going? With little recess and no PE, kids are not getting enough exercise. Don't worry, you will get "adequate exercise" in high school, right? No time to decompress: Kids need downtime, experts stress. There is a lot of talk about over-scheduling and the stress that results from too much going and not enough resting. But kids today are faced with a lot of homework. There are third graders with 2-3 hours of homework each night, my child is an example. And that doesn't account for long-term projects. Even if you do manage to under-schedule your kids, many of them have to come right home (Other than Monday and Tuesday, mandated extended day ends at 3:40 P.M., and Wednesday, religious instruction ends at 5:00 P.M., and Thursday, my son needs tutoring because he cannot seem to grasp that knowing that 4x6=24 isn't enough anymore, without showing his work for it with graphs, charts, arrays, drawings, etc., paying for a great tutor with our savings but she's worth every penny, that ends at 5:00 P.M.), then he finally gets home, does his homework, study for a CC practice test, eat dinner, shower, and basically pass out at 9:30 p.m. What are we missing???? Ohhhh, family interaction! Where is the downtime in that scenario? Here are some facts:

 1. When students, teachers and schools are rewarded for high test scores and punished for low ones, the tests themselves become the focus of education. Class time is devoted to test prep, which robs children of their natural desire to learn.
2. The state exams test only two subjects: English and math. That encourages schools to give less and less time to social studies, music, art, world languages, physical education, and even science.
3. High-stakes testing undermines important learning. In 2011, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed America’s test-based accountability systems and concluded, “There are little to no positive effects of these systems overall on student learning and educational progress.”
4. State exams are loaded with poorly written, ambiguous questions. A recent statement signed by 545 New York State Principals, noted that many teachers and principals could NOT agree on the correct answers.?.....?....?....
5. While New York State is paying Pearson millions of dollars, it is massively underfunding NY public schools (lack of physical education is a prime example). This is part of a national trend: states cut funding to public schools while pouring millions into new computer systems designed for Common Core tests.
6. High-stakes tests don’t help students learn or teachers teach. The results come too late for that. The tests are largely punitive: they punish teachers, students, and schools that don’t perform. Low test scores can be used to hold good students back and rate strong teachers as “ineffective” despite high ratings by their principals. Really???
7. High-stakes testing undermines teacher collaboration. Teachers are judged on a curve, which discourages them from helping students in another teacher’s class.
8. High-stakes testing encourages “teaching to the middle.” Educators are pressured to focus on the “2” and “3” students, where the most progress can be made on scores, and ignore the 4s (where gains aren’t measured) and 1s (whose needs are too great to raise scores easily).
9. Many middle school admissions offices are ignoring state tests. Many NYC principals signed a letter last year stating that they would no longer be considering test scores. Most schools already have practices in place for admitting students who don’t have scores. But this isn't what we are lead to believe. We are lied to, and informed that standardized tests score are mandatory to attend middle school!
10. One-size-fits-all tests punish and discourage students who are already vulnerable, including students of color, English-Language Learners, children with special needs, like my son who has an active IEP, and students from families living in poverty.

Some examples of what we are allowing to happen: Spring 2014 Day 3 of the Common Core NYS ELA is absurd. The third grade test includes an excerpt from a book that, according to Scholastic, is written at a Grade Level Equivalent of 5.2. Its Lexile Measure is 650L, and it’s categorized as a Level X Guided Reading selection. Yet, it appears on a test that has been written for third grade students. Day 3 of the Common Core NYS ELA is incongruous with Common Core Learning Standards. The same third grade test asks students to identify how specific paragraphs support the organizational structure of a selected piece of literature. The Reading Standards for Literature in Grade 3, with respect to Craft and Structure, state that Grade 3 students should be able to: Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections. It is not until Grade 5, according to The Reading Standards for Literature, that students should be able to: Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.

Why doesn't anyone ask the parents what homework time is like? Do you think it's like a 7 day trip to DisneyWorld weekly? Yea, no. Because of the fact that his teachers were never given the time or opportunity to LEARN how to TEACH this great new curriculum within an adequate timeframe, ahead of the fast paced rollout, teachers for the most part are learning WITH their students. In my home, my son comes home, ill equipped with enough knowledge from the days classwork, to completely understand that nights assignment, and is CLUELESS! Then come the hysterics, the self loathing, " I hate my life, I hate school, I'm dumb, I'm too stupid to do this" followed by the self inflicting joy of nightly banging his head down on the GLASS dining room table, followed by an understandable painful headache. This really helps move homework time along, I have to tell you. Is not crying while doing HW the new measure of success? Sitting for over 10 hours of testing without having stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea, hysterics, and anxiety, is that our new success? Or do we want more? Do we want to see our kids classrooms filled with projects and fantasy. Finding the love of reading from fairy tales and fiction classics. Where social and emotional development is just as, or even more important as a test score. A classroom where our 8 year olds find a love of science that carries with them throughout life. Where social studies can take them right into the time period they are learning about. Where they are challenged rather than frustrated. We need to raise our expectations and need to ask ourselves "Does my child's classroom look the way I want it to look?" If not, what are we going to do about it? Because, god forbid we ask questions, or make decisions regarding homework based on a test my son IS NOT TAKING. Maybe, it's time to rethink the Common Core? Stress is dangerous and impacts physical and emotional health. It's no way to live, and it's NOT the way I will raise my child. Incidentally, can anyone tell me what kind of career requires people to spit out the answers to 20 math problems in two minutes or less?

I think today’s system isn’t generating kids who are independent thinkers and ready to contribute to the world. I think we have to ask ourselves whether we want to create a generation of test-takers and resume-builders, or do we want problem-solvers and life-long learners and healthy young adults. There is a film called "Race to Nowhere” documenting how America’s schools have become test-obsessed, high-stakes pressure cookers. They’re churning out ill-prepared adults short on creativity and ethics, and stripping humanity from kids. Here's some more fun facts:

 1.Standardized Testing takes away approximately 25% of our children's academic school year.
2.Standardized Testing gives teachers incentives and forces teachers to "teach to the test" instead of nurturing higher order thinking skills. 3.Standardized Testing teaches children that there is only one right answer in academics and in life.
4.Standardized Testing costs millions of dollars of taxpayer money to produce and thousands of dollars of our school district's money to implement.
5.Standardized Testing encourages our best teachers to seek other careers where their expertise is actually valued. So who is losing out? Our kids.
6.Standardized Testing is developmentally destructive for specific age groups.
7.Standardized Testing is creating corruption among schools where school districts are cheating on test scoring.
8.Standardized Testing is creating corruption among students where students are purposely scoring poorly to negatively affect teachers that they don’t like.
9.Standardized Testing gives teachers incentive to care more about their teacher evaluation than they do about children. Do you want your child in a classroom with a teacher who has this type of attitude????
 10.Standardized Testing uses our children as tools to evaluate school districts, schools, and teachers. Students do not even get a chance to learn from their mistakes. In fact, they never see the test after they take it. Now that makes sense!?!?

I've seen firsthand my child go from loving learning to being worried, anxious and stressed about these tests. These tests...which have no real bearing on his future...these tests...which take up months of test prep time instead of teaching time...these tests...which are making corporations VERY rich and children VERY stressed...these tests...which are being used to grade teachers who got into teaching to make a difference, not make children miserable. Our children are spending way more time testing with no benefit to them. Do we want them to spend more time learning over testing, practice tests, and all the other assessments they endure. They've lost all time associated with projects and hands on learning. NYS standardized testing has become excessive and extraordinarily harmful to students, teachers, and our schools in general. It has changed the culture and climate of schools for the worse. When last year's grade 3-8 tests were realigned with Common Core, less than one-third of students earned passing scores. This year, they lowered the grade to pass. ????? I believe in our students, teachers, administrators, and my knowledge of my own child.

I believe in standards. I believe in teacher based assessments. I believe strongly in public education. I do NOT believe that private companies, like Pearson, have the best interest of our children, our future leaders, in mind. $$$$$$$$$ I do NOT believe in high-stakes standardized testing. And, most importantly, I DO believe that the current implementation of high-stakes standardized testing will bankrupt and destroy public education. High-stakes testing already pollutes our classrooms. There are test prep, SLOs, and Common Core There are Contact Standards that are not developmentally appropriate, and set our children up to feel like failures from the start. High stakes testing is also expensive. It is a tremendous financial burden which will bankrupt the public school system. As our resources are directed towards these mandates, they are taken away from the arts and other non-mandated elements of our curriculum which negatively impacts our students’ ability to be truly college and career ready- or more simply said- their ability to be happy, healthy, and wise. I believe that we are at a crucial point in public education. I do NOT believe that we can hunker down, do our best, and wait for these “tough times” to pass. If we do not take a stand now, we may not have anything to stand for at all. Public education as we know it could disappear in the near future leaving us with a hierarchy of charter schools ranging from the “have-it-alls” to “never-had-a-chance”. I believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators. I believe in the high quality of teaching and learning that occur in my child’s school. I hope my efforts will be understood in the context in which they are intended: to support the quality of instruction promoted by the school, and to advocate for what is best for all children. Our schools will not suffer when these tests are finally gone, they will flourish. I will continue to stand up against the corporate and government takeover of our schools and advocate for what is best for children, teachers and administrators.

I will not stay silent and do nothing while these unjustly abusive mandates and policies are setting up our children and our schools for failure. I believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators. I believe that my child's education should be trusted to those who are most experienced and who personally know the needs and individual requirements of each child. Teachers already know how to determine those needs and requirements without mandated standardized assessments. While I understand the district is legally required to administer these tests, I have determined that the present testing system is grossly excessive, poorly designed, punitive to students, teachers and our schools. I can no longer sit by and watch the corporate and government takeover of our schools. I believe in our dedicated and qualified teachers and administrators and need to advocate for what is best for my child. I want our teachers to be able to teach again. I want my child to be able to learn again, in all ways, I want the schools to be places children can grow and socialize in a calm and supportive environment. Having a child in third grade, I have knowledge of how much rigor children at such a young age are forced to endure. The CCSS are depriving my child of a meaningful education and deterring him away from developing a love for learning.

The Common Core State Standards are designed for the common students where does that leave the student who is uncommon? By uncommon, I mean the student who it may take a while to learn and grasp the concepts of what is being taught, like my son or the student who has emotional difficulty adjusting, like my son, or the student who is disadvantaged and worried if he/she will have dinner on the table that evening. We live in a society filled with uncommon people. What defines the Common student? What traits does that common student hold? We live in a great nation where the common is not so common and teaching to standards that are geared toward the common student is setting our kids up for failure.

As a parent, as a U.S. citizen, it is wonderful that I am able to coach my son to refuse these tests. And I will continue to do so, as long as there is a single breathe left in my body. Because, he is NOT common. Now, my reasoning is.....I will not torture my son for another twenty two more days, practicing and completing test prep assignments, trying to make him explain why and how he just knows 6x4=24, especially when correct answers aren't so important, for a test that he is not and should not be expected to be scholastically prepared for, putting him through three dates of testing, and anxiety, just so his teachers can be scored unfairly by his bogus score. In addition to his already low self esteem and nervousness suffering further. To be honest, the hypocrisy of receiving a call of such concern over homework not done, which never happens, because this homework is based on a test that I am refusing him to take, that you were all aware of, boggles my mind. Give him as much reading, writing, non CC based graded math, science, and social studies work as you see fit. And yes, you know what kind of parent I am, a pretty good one. And I do think he needs to continue his non-based Core Curriculum work, wanting him to progress nicely, not needing to meet Common Standards. And most importantly, as long as my son tries the best he can, and is on a normal/meeting grade level, he's a rock star in my eyes.

Thank you so very much for your concern,


  1. This was a great read! It's what I've been saying for the past couple of years! What's interesting the most and a lot of people don't think of it from this prospective and that's this!
    The people who make all of the scholastic dissuasion typically have money to put their kids in private school or have no kids at all. They can afford private school(smaller group learning with no test) while putting all the pressure k. The public sector.

  2. Great read. Teacher and Parent accountability is fundamental for the success of our country.