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New York State school tests, against and for

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School in Rockville Centre take the Common Core mathematics test on Friday, April 24, 2015. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The letter from state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, opposing Common Core test opt-outs, contains a misleading statement about the usefulness of these tests to teacher planning [“Opt in or opt out? Two views,” April 3]. Elia claims that the tests, “help educators plan for the coming school year and develop individualized learning plans for students.”

This is absolutely not true. Teachers could do this only if they received detailed results about which questions students got correct or incorrect. All they can see is an overall test score, which gives no indication of a student’s strengths or weaknesses.

The chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, has said she would have her own children avoid these tests. Even more important, she suggested that the tests were designed so that many students would fail, giving policymakers a chance to point to a crisis in the state’s schools.

Clearly, the tests are not designed to drive instruction, but rather, to punish teachers and push the corporate, moneymaking, charter school agenda.

Robert Gerhardt, Melville

Editor’s note: The writer is a fifth-grade teacher in the Half Hollow Hills school district.


The opt-out movement sends a wrong message to our children [“Wave of opt-outs,” News, April 6]: that when one faces adversity, giving up is an option. The truth of life is the opposite.

Life is a series of obstacles and challenges. One has to prepare for challenges, not walk away. Even after reaching a professional level, continuing education and training are mandatory in most fields. Challenges in life are not the neighbors’ barbecue invitations that one can decline.

For those who select opt-out in life, misery will usually follow.

The students seized on this opportunity to skip a test. The more disturbing matter was the parents’ screaming and howling at then-state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.’s public hearings in 2013. It reminded me of the Berkeley campus riots in California in 1968, the first year I was in the United States. We adults are supposed to be role models for our children. Must we act like a mob to get our points across?

Finally, children were used as political weapons. In this movement, a group of mature, artful and authoritative adult figures — teachers and parents — exploited a group of young, innocent, guileless children to implement the agenda of the teachers unions.

While this is not unlawful, is it morally correct?

Chao-sheng Cheng, Glen Cove


If parents and teachers are so concerned that little Janie and Johnny are stressed out by the Common Core tests given once a year, in just two subjects, then they should be even more concerned about the many hours of homework, quizzes, tests and final exams that teachers give in all subjects during the school year.

Here’s a modest proposal: Eliminate all homework and testing. Just assign a grade based on attendance, although that might not be a good measure for those students and parents who feel that even attending school is too stressful.

Perhaps all students and parents who feel that life should present no challenges or stress should indignantly demand that Johnny and Janie just be given their high school diplomas when they reach 18. Then their unstressed, blissed-out angels can spend their lives living in their parents’ basements because they are unable to get into college, because the SAT or ACT is too stressful, or they can’t enter a trade because it’s too stressful to learn a skill or craft.

I’m glad I can claim a tax deduction for the exorbitant property (school) taxes I pay, which in turn affords me the opportunity to interact with teens who can rarely take a food order without three repetitions and then don’t know how to count back change at the register.

William Hastback, Smithtown


Parents have been vocal about their reason for opting their children out of tests: concern that their kids are being overtested, stressed out and distracted from learning new material.

But there are even more compelling reasons to opt in. When a large number of children take the tests, educators can accurately evaluate programs and determine which instructional standards to focus on. The tests also help schools know which kids are ready to move up a grade. More controversially, the scores can help understand the differential impact of the teachers themselves.

In short — and this isn’t coming through as loudly as the complaints — these tests, for all their shortcomings, benefit the community. They indicate whether a school is working or failing. That’s something every parent of school-age children has a right to know.

The opt-out movement appears to be most prevalent in white middle- and upper-middle-class districts, with Long Island a particular hot spot. But many schools are failing their students, and it’s not too much to ask that we all help remedy that. Statewide testing is the only way to hold schools, districts and unions accountable.

Todd L. Pittinsky, Port Jefferson

Editor’s note: The writer is a professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University.

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