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In NYS, learning standards are not the enemy

Children hold up signs during the first New

Children hold up signs during the first New York rally in "The Great American Opt Out" at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station on Saturday, March 29, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

In a somewhat surreal moment more befitting the world of “Harrison Bergeron” than our own, newly elected Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa declared that were she a parent and not a Regents board member, she would opt her children out of the state exams, citing her belief that the tests are flawed.

This would be like the U.S. surgeon general being against X-rays because they’re not perfect and have some drawbacks. Or a basketball coach coming out against practicing because someone, somewhere might get hurt while trying for a layup. Where did this insane idea that we shouldn’t attempt things that might not be perfect emerge from?

Jeanette Deutermann, the founder of a Long Island Opt Out group, supported Rosa’s statement, telling Newsday, “She’s right that parents have a right and responsibility to protect their children from flawed tests.”

I’m not sure why so many parents feel the need to protect kids from the tests, as if the benefits don’t clearly outweigh any potential downsides. What exactly are they worried about?

And what do opt-outers suggest as an alternative? I remember when I taught in New York City not all that long ago. For a child to pass out of a class, he or she needed two out of three things: 1. 90% attendance; 2. a passing grade in the class; and 3. at least a grade of “2” on sub-par state exams. A grade of “2,” by the way, meant that they were performing “below standards.” Yet, somehow, even these standards weren’t quite low enough. That’s when they brought in “promotional folders” so that kids could be pushed through grades even if they had failed in every measurable way.

According to the OECD’s latest rankings (2012), the United States is 17th in reading and 27th in math, out of 34 industrialized countries. Recently, OECD reported that the United States ranks dead-last in understanding technology, tied only with Poland, and that our high school graduates are on par with many other countries’ high school dropouts. Think for a moment about what that means: In Japan, what would be considered complete and utter failure is somehow a success in the United States.

Opt-outers are yet to present a reasonable alternative to the Common Core tests. It’s easy to be against something, but what exactly are they for? Should we have no independent assessments at all? Should we have no reasonable measure of student and teacher performance?

This is not a battle between those who love children and those who love tests, as opt-outers have framed it. This is a battle between those who believe in standards and those who don’t — between those who are willing to challenge kids and test them to see what’s working and those who want to “protect” them from any real standards and, therefore, any real learning.

The test is not the enemy. The standards are not the enemy. And if you are a parent who won’t allow your kid to take a test so that we can get an honest assessment of how he or she is doing, perhaps it’s time you realize the enemy facing your child’s education is you.

Ross Rosenfeld of Lynbrook is a former New York City English teacher and the founder of Ross Tutoring.

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