Students nationwide refusing controversial tests Common Core MAP testing starts Wednesday at R-I

Sunday, April 19, 2015

By PAT PRATT

Staff Writer

As R-I students in grades 3-8 are set to begin assessment testing containing Common Core items next week, school officials discuss some of the issues surrounding the controversial new standards.

According to several media outlets, at the time of this writing, more than 150,000 students in New York State have refused the test, a movement that seems to be spreading across the nation.

However, R-I administrators do not expect to see the high refusal rates other states are facing. The district, like many others, does not have an opt-out policy per se - not withstanding, a student simply refusing to take it.

"We have never had that as a problem. There is no Department of Elementary and Secondary Education form out there, where you can officially opt-out and we are able to not be held accountable for that student," R-I Superintendent Chris Hon said.

Nevertheless, mass refusal of the test is what one group is pushing for.

The Missouri Coalition Against Common Core has a blanket opt-out form available on their website moagainstcommoncore.com and offers several reasons why the learning standards should be scrapped.

"This test is simply a waste of time," said founding member Anne Gassel. "It is not the computer adapted test the state has contracted for, it has no external validity measures, which are required by Missouri statute and No Child Left Behind. So giving the test does not even produce the information required by the state and federal government."

As the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) test R-1 students are taking next week is only an assessment, refusal will not affect grades, nor will the students be disciplined according to Hon.

"It will not affect the student as far as discipline, as far as grades. We will not have achievement data on them for a year, so as far as charting their growth and figuring out where they are, we will lose that piece of data. But, we have multiple sets of data," Hon said.

Ultimately, the individual school districts may suffer if students refuse to take the MAP test.

While the test is not directly tied to funding, it is a factor in accreditation, although portions of this spring's test will be exempt due to the newness of the content.

"If it (refusals) grows to over five percent, it will become a level not determined. We can't have more than five percent of our students at a level not determined, or we automatically can't use those scores, so that affects us.

"Accreditation, that affects us. With not having good scores - the way that could hurt us financially is we may have to do things that cost us more money, more days added to the year, longer days. Of course you are coupling this with No Child Left Behind too, so we really don't know what affect that might have on a federal level," Hon said.

Another concern is privacy. Gassel says a family in Oregon received a call from a third-party asking to speak to the student about the test.

"Not only did they get information about who took the tests, they had their home phone numbers and were using that information to do a follow-up survey. That information was loaded in by the school district months ago and the parents were never told," she said.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Patty Robertson says while she is not familiar with third-party privacy policies at test provider Smarter Balance, the state has collected data on students for years and the district has never seen an incident akin to the one Gassel said took place in Oregon.

"I am not well-versed in sharing the data across third-party companies. The state of Missouri has always collected data on our students. Our students are given what is called a MoSYS number and they collect attendance data, discipline data, achievement data.

"That has been warehoused at our state department of education for a while. As far as sharing with third-party companies and things outside us and the Missouri Department of Education, I am not aware," Robertson said.

The ELA/math sections of the R-I MAP test will be provided by Smarter Balance, one of two consortiums providing the tests, and will be just a part of that company's "full-blown" common core assessment, which is cost prohibitive at this time according to Robertson.

Missouri has seen action by lawmakers and the judiciary this year regarding the tests. The Associated Press reports, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled Feb. 24 that the state's partnership with the Common Core testing company is an "illegal interstate compact not authorized by the U.S. Congress."

In the wake of that ruling, Missouri House Speaker John Diehl says the state will strip $4.5 million in funding for membership to a group that makes tests for the national Common Core education standards, according to the AP.

The attorney general's office represents the state and is reviewing the ruling. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a statement in March saying the spring test will not be affected.

"This lawsuit deals with our membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium of states that are working together to create common tests. It does not impact the use of the tests themselves. We do not expect this to impact the administration of statewide tests this spring."

Common Core is a state-led effort to place an academic standard on the nation's schools. Proponents claim our country is lagging in academics on the world stage and higher standards are needed. On the flip-side, opponents have described it as a takeover of local control.

"I think the movement against Common Core is coming from a lot of places," said Hon. "A lot of it is the idea of standards that are not completely generated in the state of Missouri or at the local level."

He adds that controversy over performance testing is nothing new.

"And this is nothing new for us. We have dealt with standards and tests generated outside of our school district for 28 years since I've been in education. We went from the BEST test to the MMAT test, to the MAP test and now we have the MAP test that has Common Core items and standards in it," Hon said.

Most parents in Poplar Bluff have just posed questions and not fielded any opposition to the new standards according to school officials.

"We have had some questions, specifically the changes in our math standards. It is more rigorous. It's more about learning the process instead of just being able to memorize how to do a problem. That is coming mostly out of the elementary area," Hon said.

The first tests will begin Wednesday at the 5th and 6th Grade Center. Other schools will follow over the next two weeks. A complete schedule is available at poplarbluffschools.net/admin/2015-test-schedule.

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