Parents, in growing numbers, have been refusing the Common Core aligned test for their children. Over 50% (see correction) of the students in New York City refused the test last year. Yesterday I wrote about Jia Lee who said she found it unconscionable to give the new Common Core aligned tests to her students. Another teacher, Jennifer Rickerts of New York laid out, in very clear terms, why she also would be refusing to administer the new CC tests to her students.  She found herself in a “deep moral conflict” after reading the test guide and knowing what it said it would be asking her 11-12 year old students to do.

“Today I am a broken woman,” she said.

Her full letter is in Valerie Strauss’s column in the Washington Post. Below are excerpts.

I have the greatest job on earth. I’m a teacher.  This year, I began my 22nd year at the Ichabod Crane Central School District, where I have taught Grades 2, 5, and 6.  I love my students and I am very passionate about teaching.  I also stay involved with educational shifts and new strategies.  I try to exemplify this in the leadership roles I assume as Grade Level Chair, English/Language Arts Liaison, and Middle School Student Mentoring Coordinator.  I have always thought of myself as somewhat “old-school” because I respect the chain of command, respect my elders, and consider myself patriotic.  I am a rule follower…

Over the last few years, I have seen many parents cry about their child’s New York State test scores, and I have seen students cry because they can’t complete the tests.  I began to question the validity of the assessments as they became more and more daunting for my students, but I believed that if I continued to incorporate the Common Core Learning Standards and provide the highest quality instruction, my students would be evaluated fairly.  During this period, I kept the faith in our great state of New York and our educational leaders, hoping that there would be a fair resolution for the children…

I read the “New York State Testing Program’s Educator Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Common Core English Language Arts Test,” and I sobbed.  I am so disturbed by the descriptions of the test in this guide that I find myself in deep moral conflict regarding the administration of the 2015 Common Core English Language Arts Test to my students.

My students are 11- and 12-years-old.  They are at the cognitive level that Jean Piaget, revered cognitive theorist, characterized as “concrete-operational,” meaning they can think logically about concrete events but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical situations.  Yet in the guide, it states that students will “evaluate intricate arguments.”

In addition, “students will need to make hard choices between fully correct and plausible, but incorrect answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage.”  This is not developmentally appropriate for my students, and I find it cruel and harmful to suggest that it is.  I do not believe in knowingly setting my students up for failure.  I cannot remain silent for one more day without speaking up for my students…

The guide also indicates that students will be reading difficulty levels, or Lexiles, as high as 1185, which is the level eleventh-grade students are required to understand.  When children read, if the difficulty level significantly exceeds their instructional level, the lack of fluency causes a dramatic breakdown in comprehension.

Clearly, this is a set-up for the kids to fail.  As students learn, they make sense out of new information through schema.  Schemata are cognitive frameworks to which they can add to, or modify, as they learn new information.  One could compare the requirement for children to understand these passages to expecting them to master algebra before establishing number sense; there is no foundation to build knowledge upon.

If a student has no context, they are not likely to comprehend the text at the deep level required to distinguish fully correct answers from plausible, but incorrect answers.  In addition to these inappropriate, unfamiliar concepts and time periods, students will be expected to sift through authors’ use of “intentionally incorrect grammar and/or spelling” and “passages drawn from works commonly taught in higher grades.”  Finally, in the guide it states that “Students will be required to negotiate plausible, text-based distractors.  A distractor is an incorrect response that may appear plausible.”

In summary, we are going to ask 11-year-olds to read and comprehend passages that are taken from higher grades, some at 5 years above their level, with controversial and provocative language, based on abstract literature and historical documents that the students have not learned about yet, and choose an answer from several plausible choices?  We are going to have our students spend nine hours of seat time, allowing extra time for our Special Education students, on these inappropriate tests? (Add another nine hours for math.)

And after all is said and done, we will reduce each child to a number: 4, 3, 2, or 1, based on their performance, providing the teachers and parents with little to no information about what they can and cannot do?

No.  No, I cannot.

With all due respect to my students, their parents, my administration, and Board of Education, I must go on record as strongly objecting to this test.  I respectfully request reassignment on the dates of the 2015 Common Core ELA Assessment.

Jennifer Rickert

A 1-4 will not provide anyone with rich information about a child’s ability of knowledge. Even if teachers are provided with more information, arriving at the end of the school year it is unlikely it would contain anything they did not already know about the student, and coming from a test they did not develop or even see it would have even less meaning.

Our state will spend $4.3 million on this test. Our state also plans to use SBAC developed interim tests for the grades not receiving the big summative test in the spring, starting next year.  These are six “shorter” tests given throughout the year, again neither designed nor seen by teachers, most likely with the same flaws as the summative ones. But hey, how great for McGraw Hill who is designing the test items. They will have even more data flowing in to them from our student with which to continually change their product. They will be using our kids in “non-tested” grades to help develop test validity for their summative spring tests. And we get pay even more for this testing privilege.

At some point we need to step off the testing treadmill. Are there any Jia Lees or Jennifer Rickerts in Missouri willing to stand up and refuse?


You can watch Ms. Rickerts deliver her testimony.

Correction: 50% 0f students in Jia Lee’s New York City school refused the test. 30,000+ overall in New York City refused. For a table with more specifics see this link.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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