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State PTA seeks 1 year moratorium on Common Core testing

Students take notes during a lecture on May

Students take notes during a lecture on May 1, 2013. Credit: Heather Walsh

The New York State PTA is calling for a one-year moratorium on tests linked to Common Core curricula, even as it continues to support the more rigorous national academic standards, the group's leader said Tuesday.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time New York State PTA has embarked on a campaign like this," said Lana Ajemian, of Garden City, president of the group, which has more than 300,000 members. "The voices of our membership have been as passionate as we ever have about any issue. It's that important."

The initiative is motivated by parents, Ajemian said. About three-quarters of the organization's members are parents, and one-quarter are teachers.

As part of the advocacy campaign, the group wants to reduce the number of tests and make testing standards more flexible for English-language learners and students with disabilities.

"We remain strongly supportive of the Common Core standards, but the implementation of these standards needs a significant course correction," Ajemian said at a news conference at her home. "A rushed implementation, combined with excessive testing, has already shaken confidence in the Common Core, and we cannot afford more confusion and discontent over what is otherwise a worthy effort."

The group is telling state Department of Education officials it does not want recent student test scores factored in to teacher performance evaluations and would rather have more guidance for teachers who are new to adopting Common Core standards in their classrooms.

She declined to say how much the nonprofit group, which is primarily funded by membership dues, is spending on the new initiative.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia-based National PTA said Tuesday that a number of state PTAs are "working on initiatives around the Common Core state standards at some level, focusing on educating members and the public, and building advocacy skills that parents can use to be involved in the process."

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the Boston-based National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a nonprofit standardized-testing watchdog group, said he had not heard of another state PTA taking a similar stance.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first state PTA to come out against high-stakes testing in this way," Schaeffer said. "I wonder if this will lead to opposition in other states."

Common Core and the tougher student testing related to it have stirred controversy and anger among parents and educators. The academic standards -- which began to be phased in at schools statewide in 2012 -- are a creation of the National Governors Association, working together with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education commissioners.

New York is one of 45 states that agreed to adopt the standards, which cover English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. Recommended English readings include works that also can be used in history, science and technical courses.

Ajemian noted that many parents are concerned about over-testing. Her group does not endorse a movement that encourages parents to allow their children to opt out of state tests, she said.

As part of the PTA's campaign, the group will meet with state education officials, lawmakers and members of the media. They also will advertise and launch lobbying efforts and events, Ajemian said.

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