Ten Reasons Why NO Child Should Take the NYS Common Core Tests

Dear parents and educators of New York,

I teach elementary school in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York.  In 2013 and 2014, I administered Pearson’s New York State Common Core tests to English-language learners (ELLs). There is nothing meaningful about these assessments; no teacher I know supports them and I will not allow my child to take the tests when she enters third grade (even if the high-stakes are removed).  Here are ten reasons why Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests should never see the light of day.

1.) They are too long, especially for students in grades 3-5.  Over the course of six days, my 5th grade ELLs spent a total 13.5 hours sitting for the ELA (English-language arts) and math assessments. Here is what the 5th grade ELA assessment looked like last year (2014):

Day ONE: 27 pages long, 6 unrelated reading passages, 42 multiple choice questions

Day TWO: 3 unrelated reading passages, 7 multiple choice questions, 3 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Day THREE: 3 reading passages, 5 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Additionally, the below graph – created by Lace to the Top – shows that the third grade Common Core tests are twice as time-consuming as the SAT.

1521228_10202796253365339_1970773454_n2.) They are developmentally inappropriate.  Lace to the Top recently analyzed third grade Common Core test samples and determined that Pearson’s NYS Common Core test questions are 2-3 grade levels above the grade being tested.  The reading passage used for third grade was shown to have a readability average of 7.3 (7th grade)!

3.) Pearson’s NYS Common Core standardized tests, which are costing the state $32 million, are not teacher-created, nor do they accurately reflect the contextualized skills and knowledge that students gain in the classroom.  The tests are poorly constructed and uninspiring, and they contain ambiguous questions.  557 New York State principals signed this letter denouncing the tests.

4.) With Pearson’s Common Core state tests at the center of K-8 education in New York State, curriculum has narrowed, particularly in schools in low-income areas whose test scores tend to be low.  Fearing increased scrutiny and potential closure, raising test scores has become the main focus in many schools.  Some schools are little more than test prep factories with diminishing enrichment and project-based learning opportunities. Beginning in kindergarten, students are being taught test-taking strategies, most notably through the context-lacking close reading technique used in Common Core-aligned English-language arts.  Pearson’s developmentally inappropriate and poorly constructed scripted reading program – ReadyGEN – is test prep for the NYS Common Core ELA test.

5.) The Common Core’s testing program encourages standardized testing in grades K-2. Title I schools in particular feel pressured to show – through periodic data collection – that students are learning the skills needed to perform well on the grades 3-8 Common Core state tests. This is what the standardized testing program looks like in my Title I first grade classroom this school year:

  • Sept/Oct 2014 Common Core-aligned NYC Baseline Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).
  • Running Records administered one-on-one 4-5 times per year (they test reading levels).
  • 12 Common Core-aligned end-of-unit GO Math! assessments (each comprised of 24 multiple choice questions and a multi-step extended response question).
  • Monthly Common Core-aligned ReadyGEN writing assessments testing students’ understanding of narrative, persuasive and informative writing.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in ELA – End of unit 2 ReadyGEN test comprised of 5 multiple choice comprehension questions, 5 multiple choice vocabulary questions and 1 written response.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in Math – GO Math! test comprised on 40 multiple choice questions; 15 questions on skills not yet learned.
  • May/June 2015 Common Core-aligned NYC Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).

6.) The New York State Education Department (NYSED) lacks transparency and ethics.  In upholding the corporate education reform agenda, which seeks to privatize public education, the NYSED’s intention is to perpetuate the false narrative that our schools are failing.  Fred Smith, a NYS testing expert and statistician, and Lace to the Top have reported at length about Pearson’s poor quality tests and the NYSED’s unreliable test data, specifically its delayed release of technical reports, which evaluate the Common Core tests, missing test questions and predetermined test scores.  The NYSED manipulates cut scores in order to legitimize its above-mentioned agenda; not only are cut scores constantly changing but the NYSED sets them AFTER the tests have been scored. Thus, the NYSED’s claim that 70% of our students are failing is invalid.  

7.) An inordinate amount of planning and organizing time is devoted to preparing for the state tests. Giving the state tests is an administrative and logistical nightmare at the school level. Out-of-classroom teachers are pulled from their regular teaching program to administer and score the tests. Countless hours are spent bubbling testing grids and organizing them alphabetically by class. IEPs (individualized education program) are examined closely to ensure that students with special needs receive the correct testing accommodation(s). These include directions read and re-read, extended time, separate location, on-task focusing prompts, revised test directions, questions read and re-read. ELLs and some former ELLs are pulled from their regular classrooms for testing because they are entitled to extended time in a separate location. Also, there is professional development for teachers on testing policies and procedures including “reporting prohibited conduct by adults, student cheating, and other testing irregularities.”

8.) English-language learners (ELLs) must take Pearson’s NYS Common Core ELA test after just one year in the system.  Students with IEPs are also required to take the tests unless they qualify for the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA), which too is flawed. For a variety of reasons, it is misleading, insulting and grossly irresponsible of the NYSED to claim that 97% of ELLs and 95% of students with IEPs in grades 3-8 are “failures” in ELA.  These figures completely disregard the growth students make in our classrooms.

9.) Our students are suffering. I’ve heard countless stories of kids who are sickened – both physically and emotionally – from New York State’s toxic Common Core testing program. I’ve personally witnessed students’ tears, anger and despair, and it’s heartbreaking. There is nothing humane, nothing redeeming about these tests.  Morale is plummeting as teachers and administrators feel complicit in the state’s abuse of our children.

10.) Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed basing 50% of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores from these highly flawed Common Core state assessments.  Not only are these test scores unreliable but the American Statistical Association has warned against using the value-added model (VAM) to rate teachers and schools.

As you can see, the negative impact of NYSED’s punitive Common Core testing program is far-reaching. But we – as parents and educators working together – can take back power by refusing these tests.  In order to save public education, a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, we must start thinking communally rather than individually.

Taking these tests is not “good practice” for our young learners; in fact, administering the tests is bad pedagogical practice.  In addition, high test scores do not guarantee admission to selective NYC middle schools.  Contrary to popular belief, opting-out does not hurt schools.  With regards to opt-out’s impact on teachers, Change the Stakes, a NYC-based organization that opposes the NYSED’s testing program, writes,

It is not helpful to speculate about which students should or should not opt out in order to protect teachers’ evaluations. The bottom line is that the current teacher evaluation system is flawed. Opting out in large numbers is the most powerful way for parents to let policymakers know that we do not want our children, teachers and schools evaluated based on standardized test scores.

Our students and teachers are not failures; rather the NYSED has failed us.

– Katie

Here are some useful resources about the Common Core testing program:



35 thoughts on “Ten Reasons Why NO Child Should Take the NYS Common Core Tests

  1. Great article, Katie! As a teacher of over 30 years, I can sincerely say that this is THE WORST thing that has happened to education in my career! Thank you for blogging!
    However, you need to use the phrase “refuse the tests,” not “opt out.” There is no “opting out.” There IS only “refusing.”
    Again, thank you so much for a great article.

  2. Katie makes good points. The Common Core tests are definitely NOT a good thing and she shows us why. As with most situations that are politically based, one only needs to ‘follow the money’ to see why there’s such a big push in favor of them.

  3. My dad could build anything we need to stop these test. They would change how smart you are because they do not let you think. People who give the test should take them

  4. Did your principal specifically mandate you give the Go Math assessments? I can’t speak about the ReadyGen but I know for Go Math, they were presented as “optional assessment tools” during the citywide trainings. HMH also suggested using the test generator to cut down the assessments or create your own if they are too lengthy or not valuable to informing your instruction. The “Performance Tasks” are another shorter assessment alternative. They are suggested as a guided activity in younger grades.

    • Yes, my administration mandated that we administer the mid-term Go Math assessment. I pushed back to no avail. The school needed data for our QR. Thanks for the tips about the alternative assessments. This is my first year teaching Go Away Math & I’ve not attended any PD, which -frankly – is fine with me. I skipped unit 7 test because I couldn’t bear to give the kids another test right after the benchmark.

  5. Refuse to take them, your child is yours, not the state-owned. Do what you want to do, not what the state and politicians want. Also – I suspect there will be a lot of corruption and cheating by teachers/principals to forge the proper scores in order to keep the status quo.

  6. There is an 11th reason and I am surprised that it hasn’t gained more attention. How on earth is it smart or reasonable to even remotely “evaluate” the music teachers, the art teachers, the foreign language teachers, the gym teachers by using the standardized ELA or Math scores, as the measure of their effectiveness?? What about the teachers in the grades Pre K to 2, who also get “measured” by standardized scores for the schools?

  7. AMAZING ARTICLE. IT IS SO TRUE EVERY SINGLE THING YOU SAY. I TEACH IN A TITLE 1 school. I teach K and my poor students. It’s heartbreaking. Thank you for speaking out.

  8. I as a parent agree wholeheartedly with everything said. I just have a hard time with the fact that where were all these teachers opposing Common Core when it was just the students who suffered. Tie the salary to the test and it becomes a movement.

    • Actually, Common Core has been aligned to teacher evaluations from it’s beginning. It was part of the agreement with Race to the Top. If the funds were taken, it was with the agreement that curriculum would follow the Common Core standards and institute a teacher evaluation system as well aligned with test scores. It’s been happening for longer than most people realize. People (parents and teachers) are now speaking out against it because we’ve seen what the tests look like now and realize that they are completely inappropriate and useless. Not all schools tie salary to test scores, but it does impact evaluation scores for the teacher and has since Common Core was implemented.

  9. Great article! I have been a special ed teacher for over 20 years. One thing I would like to add is that students with testing modification on their IEPs are not always able to utilize them on the Common Core Exams. For instance, if a student has “tests read” on their IEP, and have had their tests read all year to them, they CANNOT have it read on the reading portions of the Common Core ELA Exams. Also, students cannot use calculators, even if it is on their IEPs and they have used it all year, on sections of the Common Core Math Exam. These exams are not good for ANY children, but especially children with special needs. I have had students put their heads on their desks and just cry. Why? How is this helpful?

    • It’s not at ALL helpful. I teach special education too and it makes me sick to my stomach to watch this unfold. I’ve gone home in tears every year after these exams are given because it’s far too much stress to put on students who are already struggling. Not being able to have the ELA tests read has been true all along… as well as not being able to use calculators on Math tests. I understand the reasoning behind that, it shows you what they are capable of independently. What I have a problem with is telling me that MY evaluation as a teacher is based on those scores. How is that even reasonable? All it does is show that the students are below grade level. We knew that already, they were below grade level to begin with. What about finding a way to show what progress they HAVE made. What’s the point in having goals on an IEP then? I could go on and on, but I completely relate.

  10. I have to think that teachers are afraid of the results, and fail to admit that current practice is NOT succeedong. Close down the whole system, go to all charter schools and evaluate teacher and students performance yearly, AND EDUCATION WILL IMPROVE. ALL CURRENT OBJECTIONS HAVE TO DO WITH PERCORMANCE OF OVERPAID ADMINISTRATION AND TEACHERS WHO ATE NOT GETTING THE JOB DONE..

  11. Excellent article, Katie. As a fellow P.S. 9 parent, I am so glad to see that someone who is knowledgeable about this plague is also extremely vocal about it. Having just recently learned about the “opt out,” I have told all of my patients’ parents to go this route. I am a clinical pediatric psychologist and the vast majority of my kids struggle with the tests. I have also heard countless horror stories of excellent students who have lost their interest in learning after failing the grade only because of their Pearson scores.

    Thank you so much for all of your citations. I can now educate myself about the examination’s faulty reliability and validity and therefore argue the option to refuse the tests that much better. Thanks again.

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