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Are You and Your Kids Boycotting State Tests? These Parents Are [POLL]

Rockland, Westchester and Putnam parents say 'no' to state-mandated field testing; call exams 'excessive'

When Angela Bernhardt's sixth-grade daughter sits down for Friday's math field test, she'll be done in a matter of seconds.

There won't be any arithmetic or square roots—she'll simply write "refused" on the front page, hand in the exam and read a book for the remaining 40 minutes.

Bernhardt, an Upper Nyacker with two youngsters in the Nyack School District, is one of hundreds of parents in Rockland, Westchester and Putnam who is boycotting state-mandated field tests alongside their children this week.

"There's excessive testing in New York," she said.

Children will not face academic repercussions for refusing to take the exams—this week's tests are being used to formulate and fine-tune questions for future assessments.

"We're doing free research for testing companies like Pearson," Bernhardt said, noting the exams impede on classroom time. "If they're going to take our time, why not donate something to our schools?"

State tests from to high school are also used to gauge students' learning and teachers' effectiveness.

"It's starting to feel like kids are the pawns in the conflict between teachers unions and the state," Bernhardt added.

The testing also costs local school districts millions of dollars each year in administrative, equipment and grading costs that are not reimbursed. And less money for school could mean larger class sizes, or fewer programs, parents said.

The decision to boycott the tests in Nyack came about only three weeks ago, but parents' ire over superfluous exams is nothing new. Bernhardt helped found (REF), a Nyack and Valley Cottage-based group that aims to slash tests and bring more state money into local schools' coffers.

It's a concept that has supporters across the board; Bernhardt says her daughter's sixth-grade teacher is fine with the boycott, and Nyack Schools' superintendent James Montesano more state-mandated testing will "hamstring [students'] innovation."

"I've never seen the level of assessment and level of importance placed on assessment we’re at currently," he added.

Bernhardt insists the parents are not calling for a complete 180—"we're not anti-testing, we're not anti-accountability," she said—but instead a significant scaling down.

Across the river, in Hastings-on-Hudson, Tracy Pyper has picked up the reduce-testing banner and founded Public Education Matters, an organization akin to REF. Tracy Pyper's husband, Peter Swiderski, is the village's mayor.

"We do not like the way educational policy is turning," she said. "We do not like the trend toward testing and over assessment.

And parents like Pyper—who has two kids in the school system—agree. The district passed out field tests to 130 sixth-graders Wednesday, and 67 children opted out. An additional eight were absent.

"It's a significant number," Pyper said, noting that parents can to band together and create a "fewer tests" voting bloc.

As of Thursday morning, a petition put together by Bernhardt and Pyper had accumulated 274 signatures of parents across the lower Hudson Valley agreeing to boycott the field tests.

(The petition can be viewed here.)

In a survey published in The Washington Post, 8,000 parents sounded-off about state-mandated field testing in New York. The results were jarring—75-percent of parents reported their child was "more anxious in the month before the test," and 95-percent were "opposed to increasing the number and length of tests."

Officials from the New York State Department of Education's office of Assessment Policy, Development and Administration (APDA) did not return Patch's call for comment.

Though the boycotts throughout the Hudson Valley are only slated to last through the week, Bernhardt and others are looking ahead.

"For next year...we will ask the community what they're interested in doing, and there will be a variety of suggestions," Bernhardt said.

This summer, local parents, teachers and high school seniors are planning to pen letters to governor Andrew Cuomo, saying he will lose their vote if the testing continues.

"Albany is not listening to teachers and administrators," Bernhardt said. "There has to to be a better way."

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A closer look

Westchester County communities with residents protesting the field tests: Croton-Harmon, Dobbs Ferry, Harrison, Hastings-on-Hudson, Ossining, Sleepy Hollow, Somers, Scardale, Tarrytown

Rockland County communities with residents protesting the field tests: Nyack, Upper Nyack, West Nyack, Valley Cottage, New City, Ramapo, Piermont

Other communities with residents protesting the field tests: Newburgh, Rochester, Binghamton, Lancaster, West Genesee, Liverpool, Onteara, Kingston, Rondout Valley, New Paltz, Levitown, Great Neck, Long Branch

Phil Leiter June 09, 2012 at 02:09 PM
The kids are not being encouraged to break or disregard any rules. The schools are required to distribute the tests, but the children are not required to take them. Taking the tests, in fact, provides no benefit to the children at all. The entire process is strictly for the benefit of the state and Pearson. The kids would be better off using that time to study for their finals. Why would one "protect" their kids from the environment that dominates their young lives, anyway? Parents should promote an awareness and understanding, on their kids' level, on what goes on to create that environment. Active participation by residents, especially parents and children, is the best way to ensure that the schools have the direction and support they need to deliver a quality education. By encouraging the kids to leave the tests unopened on their desks, they are learning the importance of making a collective statement, within the rules, in an effort to drive change. This is a far better lesson than the drudgery of test preparation.
Ross Revira June 09, 2012 at 04:29 PM
I could not agree more. We need to train the next generation on how to become better Occupy Wall Street protesters. Who would ever want their children to become one of the evil and selfish 1%. What this country needs are more dissidents who defy authority and whine how unfair the system. What ever happened to the good old days when Abby Hoffman and Mark Rubin were our heroes.
Jen Marraccino June 09, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Please view and consider signing the REF petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/restore-education-funding-for-nys-public-schools/ . This petition asks legislators to increase school funding, decrease standardized tests and look at ways other than raising already untenable property taxes to fund education. The field test boycott is just one piece in parent efforts to get legislators to understand that decisions being made in Albany and Washington are not in many cases in the best interests of the students.
Francis T McVetty June 09, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Jen, MORE MONEY? The United States spends more money per child than any other country except one. If money WAS the answer we would be at least # two in the world rankings.
CK June 10, 2012 at 04:22 AM
I have no problem with tests but are the results being addressed? Do the schools take action on a 1 score[lowest] or a 4 score [highest]? The answer is no they don't.

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