New Mexico students walk out over Common Core testing

Cue the Pink Floyd music videos chanting, Teachers… leave those kids alone. The New Mexico debut of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing didn’t exactly kick off smoothly this week. Hundreds of students took to the streets and defied orders to take the tests in protest of what they see as a flawed system which detracts from actual learning.

New assessment tests that have angered parents and teachers across the nation prompted walkouts Monday by hundreds of high school students in New Mexico who had been set to take the exams.

The backlash came as millions of U.S. students started taking the rigorous exams aligned with Common Core standards that outline math and language skills that should be mastered in each grade.

New Mexico is among a dozen states debuting the tests this year.

Opponents say the exams distract from real learning, put added stress on students and staff members, and waste resources, especially in poor districts.

At least for now, students who refuse to take the test will still be able to graduate or advance to the next grade. But seniors who choose to do so will not be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, which casts this entire process in an even more bickering and churlish light. It seems to me that an honest evaluation of the system would acknowledge that the testing is either required as part of the formal education process or it’s not. If it is to be accepted as a valid requirement, how does a student graduate without it? And if it’s not a requirement, you’re going to give the child a diploma anyway, but essentially tell them they are grounded for the graduation ceremony? That seems like a rather petty and vindictive farewell present as the kids sets out on their adult life.

In New Jersey, after parents protested rather loudly, the PARCC testing program has an “opt out” option, which many families chose to pursue. But the subtext of how the schools are dealing with students and parents seems nearly as bad. There is – just as with New Mexico – no real penalty for not taking the tests. The kids can still graduate or advance without them. But if the families ask about these options, the teachers have been instructed to steer them away from such questions. Also, kids not taking the test will, in some schools, be forced to “sit and stare” in the classroom while everyone else complies, creating a rather hostile environment which seems designed to ostracize the nonconformists.

Most reports indicate that the tests are significantly more difficult than previous exams and may be too hard for the majority of students based on their grade level. Education experts fear that there will be sudden, sharp drop in test scores which will negatively affect students’ options for advanced placement and university acceptance. I’m not sure whether this indicates that the tests are too hard or the kids aren’t being taught well enough, but it does seem obvious that trying to set a federal standard for every family in the nation isn’t going to end well. Of course… who could have predicted that?