Skip to main content

Why Common Core tests are bad

By Nicholas Tampio
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
A teacher assists third-grade students in a Chicago classroom. Illinois is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core.
A teacher assists third-grade students in a Chicago classroom. Illinois is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In New York, as in other states, some parents oppose the Common Core exams
  • Nicholas Tampio: Common Core seems to focus too much on testing
  • He says teachers should not have to teach to the test and drain school budgets
  • Tampio: Children should receive a well-rounded curriculum and education

Editor's note: Nicholas Tampio is assistant professor of political science at Fordham University. He is the author of "Kantian Courage: Advancing the Enlightenment in Contemporary Political Theory." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In a few weeks, the New York State Education Department will begin the second round of Common Core tests. Earlier this spring, thousands of students refused to take the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) exams. In New York, as in states across the country, parents are telling administrators that their children will not sit for exams that pressure teachers to teach to the test and drain school budgets.

Nicholas Tampio
Nicholas Tampio

Ignore the baseless charge that families don't want high academic standards for their kids or are afraid their kids won't live up to higher standards. Parents and students want schools that offer a well-rounded curriculum and a sensible amount and way of testing. But the Common Core seems to focus too much on testing.

According to the 2014 New York Testing Program School Administrator's Manual, parents may eventually review students' responses to open-ended questions, but they are not allowed to look at the test itself. Although educators are under a gag order from New York State and Pearson that prohibits them from discussing specifics of the tests, Principal Elizabeth Phillips of PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and other educators across the state have decried the ELA exams as confusing and developmentally inappropriate.

New method: Children decide what to study
On GPS, a problem with U.S. education?
Enrollment up in no-test, no-tech school
Grading the U.S. education system

The situation may be the same in mathematics. Stanford professor James Milgram argues that the Common Core math standards do not command international respect and will not prepare students for STEM careers. If the state keeps hiding the exams from public scrutiny, then parents and educators have a right to doubt their pedagogical value.

There are other issues. The Race to the Top program awarded New York $700 million on the condition that the state adopts a value added modeling teacher evaluation system, in this case, APPR. Put plainly -- the state may now fire teachers if test scores are low. That creates incredible pressure to teach to the test.

Additionally, English language learners must also take the tests, regardless of how well they can understand them, and teachers in impoverished school districts are more likely to be punished, despite taking on harder assignments. In the words of noted education scholar Diane Ravitch: VAM is a sham.

I recently attended an iRefuse rally held on Long Island. The poster for the event juxtaposes two silhouettes of a child's head: one, under the title "Learning," is filled with images of Shakespeare, a guitar, a flower, math equations and plants. The other, under the title "Testing," is filled with a multiple-choice exam. That is why parents are refusing -- they want school to be a place where children's talents are cultivated and not harmed by tests whose main use is to fire teachers.

In 1849, the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote a classic essay on civil disobedience that has inspired countless activists around the world, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. According to Thoreau, "It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right."

According to Thoreau, people are too inclined to respect the government rather than question whether the people who lead it are acting justly. Today, a parent inspired by Thoreau would point out that the New York Education Department is led by fallible human beings such as John King, Ken Slentz and Ken Wagner, and the tests are created by Pearson, a corporation that has been found to use its nonprofit foundation to produce curriculum materials and software for its for-profit business.

Such a parent would also object to the School Administrators Manual's policy that "schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered." This sentence justifies the sit-and-stare policy whereby refusing children are not allowed to read or talk, but are forced to remain at their desks while their peers take the tests. In other words, this manual encourages administrators to employ the "silent treatment" on kids who don't want their education to become endless test prep. This is bullying pure and simple.

As a parent, what would you do if you wanted to refuse the upcoming math test for your child? Write a letter or e-mail to the board of education, superintendent, principals and teachers in your school district to formally notify them of your decision to refuse to allow your child to participate in any local assessments tied to APPR for the 2013-2014 school year.

Tell them that you want your child to be scored as a "refusal" with a final score of "999" and a standard achieved code of 96, on all state testing. This ensures that schools and teachers are not impacted by the refusals.

There is a chance that administrators will try to dissuade you. Tell them that you are advocating for your children to receive a well-rounded, personalized education. Tell everyone in your district that you are not fighting him or her, but rather political and corporate forces that are trying to centralize and standardize public education.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT