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New Common Core Testing Begins In New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Common Core testing begins on Tuesday in New York City, but the big question a day earlier was whether many students would even take the test.

As CBS2's Ali Bauman reported, some parents have said opting out is their child's only option.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said her department has made major changes to the Common Core English and math assessment tests since last year when one in and five students refused to take them.

But with this year's testing getting underway on Tuesday, it remained to be seen whether the differences have changed any minds.

Some parents in Washington Heights said their children will not be taking the tests.

"What is going to happen -- they're going to fail, and it's going to be worse," said Marta Rivera.

This year as last, families said a one-size-fits-all standard does not fit their kids, and schools teach to the test rather than the individual child.

"I don't want him to take the test, because I understand this is not to improve the students," said parent Belkis Boche. "Students are nervous, and I think the school is supposed to work with the student throughout the whole year -- not the days before the test -- to improve the academic situations of each student."

But education officials said this year's test will have fewer questions and there are no time limits.

"I think it's very important for students to be accountable for their learning, and I think being able to sit through a test that has removed all the impediments -- it's not timed, it's not anything that's going to make children frantic - really says to the student, 'The work you learned, you're now accountable for,' and accountability is for all our lives," said New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Fariña said the changes to the test this year should fix some of the problems that parents were concerned with in previous years. State Commissioner Elia said the same upstate Monday.

"I don't want you to think it's all done, it's not," Elia told a group of teachers in the western New York district of Lancaster, one of several she visited the last week to detail the reforms. "But I also don't want you to think we haven't done anything and I didn't listen because I did and we've made significant changes."

But some supporters of the state's opt-out movement said changes have not gone far enough to address their concerns.

"There's still a test-focused curriculum. Their whole year is very focused on testing and evaluations, the curriculum has not changed at all," Jeanette Deutermann of Opt-Out Long Island told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

"When you say it takes time, they don't have the time," parent Heidi Indelicato told Elia during a forum in Lancaster, where 46 percent of students opted out of testing last spring.

Among the biggest shifts this year, Elia said, is that student test scores will not count against teachers in their annual performance reviews as they have in the past. The policy-making Board of Regents has implemented a four-year moratorium while the state rewrites the Common Core learning standards on which the assessments are based, as well as the assessments themselves and the teacher evaluation formula.

The state also has shortened both the English assessments being given over three days this week and the math assessments students will take April 13-15. At least one reading passage and math word problem have been removed, Elia said, adding that every question has been reviewed by 22 teachers.

Additionally, time limits will be relaxed for students who are "productively working," Elia said, and the results will come back more quickly in a report that's intended to be easier to understand. Test vendor Pearson has been replaced by Questar, which will develop new test questions for next year with more teacher input.

"Some people, when they get the information, may change their mind. Some people may not," said Elia, who took over the Education Department in July. "I'm accepting the fact that the most important thing we can do right now is provide information on the major changes that I think have been made and work to really get the trust back from parents and teachers and administrators across the state."

But some families told CBS2's Bauman that it is not about fixing the test. They said it's about getting rid of it and changing over to a portfolio system instead.

"It's not good for the children," Rivera said. "It's not good for the parents."

Derrell Bradford, of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, says if we cannot measure how much students are learning in a standard way, there is no way to make learning opportunities equal across schools.

"Testing gave us the knowledge we needed. It was the proof we needed to make changes for kids who needed them most, and who had the least ability to make them on their own."

Indelicato said parents want tests permanently removed from teacher evaluations and for all test questions to be made public afterward. The state last year released about half of test questions. She also called for state legislation forbidding the collection of student data without parental permission and for the federal government to confine testing mandates to fourth and eighth grade only.

"Taking away one passage and some multiple choice questions," she said, "doesn't cut it."

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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