B y Dan King and Derek Liebig

A growing number of area parents are choosing to have their children opt out of the Common Core assessments in English and Math.

The numbers vary by school district, but one common theme – no pun intended – is that parents are choosing to opt out at relatively large rates.

As of last Friday, in Whitehall, a staggering 65 students grades 3-8 had opted out of taking the Common Core assessments in English and Math; that number is up 13 in less than a week. That amounts to 19 percent of students grades 3-8 or more than an entire graduating class most years at Whitehall.

“I think there’s two main reasons,” said Whitehall school Superintendent Liz Legault. “One is a perception of what people hear about it and No. 2 is some parents do not believe this assessment is going to give you a true read-out of who their son or daughter is; they have a moral opposition to it.”

Meanwhile, in Granville 30 students have opted out, only about 6 percent in for the math portion and even less for the ELA portion. That number is drastically fewer than in Whitehall, but still concerning for Granville school Superintendent Mark Bessen.

Bessen said the students who opt out are either held home until the tests are over or are moved to an alternate location to work on homework or read.

“It’s not just bad for the students not taking the test, but it’s also slightly disruptive to the students taking the test,” he said.

As of Monday, in Hartford, 39 students have opted out of the assessment; 25 for the math test and 14 for the ELA test. That is 13 percent for the math and 7 percent for the ELA.

Hartford Superintendent Andrew Cook said that the students who opted out had a few options on what to do while the tests were administered.

“We tried our best to not keep them in the classroom, we’re not proponents of what is called ‘sit and stare,’” Cook said. “A lot of parents have elected to keep them home when the test is administered, which the district fully supports. If they do come in on the day of the test, we try to put them in a separate room.”

Cook said that putting students in a separate room during the tests has been difficult, however, because of different IEP requirements and other special education requirements that necessitate the use of multiple rooms for testing. Opt signs 2

Despite having the highest opt out number of the three districts, Whitehall, earlier this school year, purchased Common Core modules for the elementary school. Additionally, the district hired former Granville Elementary School Principal Jane O’Shea as interim elementary principal because of her focus on Common Core testing, and the district also hired Noreen Nouza to serve as a Common Core and APPR specialist.

When asked if she felt those hires would lower the number of opt-outs in the future, Legault said “Yes, I do.”

“Jane is a tremendous resource, because she is grounded in literacy,” Legault added. “Noreen’s experience is in the evaluation process, but she offers support to the teachers to show how using Common Core modules can drive student learning.”

O’Shea said that despite the high number of opt-outs at Whitehall, the students who are taking it are doing well.

“The test this year is a lot shorter, the children are completing the test and feeling a lot more confident,” O’Shea said.

She said that while administering a Common Core assessment, she heard one student say to his partner, “I thought this Common Core was supposed to be hard.”

Cook said that Hartford has seen varying opinions from students on the difficulty of the tests.

“For the most part the atmosphere is the same as it was last year,” Cook said. “Some think they did well, some think it’s hard; it’s funny that a lot of the kids that thought it was hard end up doing well.”

Legault said that despite the opt-out numbers, Whitehall’s support of Common Core is unwavering.

“We, as a district, believe in Common Core and our teachers are working diligently with the modules,” she said. “We’re three years into it and with three years under their belt, our teachers were swimming and now they’re racing.”

Bessen also said he was supportive of the idea of Common Core.

“Overall, the curriculum will produce better students,” he said.

However, both Legault and Bessen said they feel too much emphasis is put on Common Core.

“The Common Core and the modules are great, but they aren’t the end all be all,” Legault said.

“It gives us one small piece,” Bessen added. “There are many other variables.”

Legault, however, is more supportive of the evaluative portion of the Common Core results than Bessen is.

“Evaluations are good, they hold people accountable,” Legault said. “I get evaluated as a superintendent.”

On the contrary, Bessen said he felt it wasn’t necessarily fair that the Common Core was “right away used as a measure of accountability for teachers.”

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