Common Core Testing: Should You Opt-Out?

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Common Core Standards as they have been widely implemented over the last few years. Parents and educators are gravely concerned about the over-standardization of learning and the overemphasis on testing at the expense of learning, and rightly so. This week in New York and elsewhere across the country begins a days-long process of ELA and math testing for students in grades 3-8.

The Common Core Conundrum

Generally speaking, standards in education are necessary but must be flexible and take into account the individual nature of students and their needs. The Common Core Standards were developed largely by politicians and educational publishers, whose interests may not be aligned with those of students and parents. (Read more about the history and development of the Common Core:

The Common Core test questions are often confusing and frankly take tasks that are already slightly complex in nature (such as reading and answering questions, and solving multi-step word problems), and make them more complex to the point of confusion. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been befuddled by some of the questions I’ve seen on the ELA practice exams for NYS, so you can imagine a 7th grader being completely stumped on how to answer questions that are so badly worded that English teachers are having difficulty. I have honestly grappled with the opt-out issue as I so strongly believe in providing students with a high quality, individualized education that’s not rooted in “sameness” or standardization.

The Opt-Out Option

All of this said, I think that the opt-out movement has taken on a life of its own and parents who choose to go this route may be a little misguided and influenced by other interests. Read more about the national opt-out movement:

The Opt-Out Movement in New York and Special Interests

In states such as New York, where proposed teacher evaluations would be based heavily on these test scores, the teachers unions are understandably going after the Common Core and testing, and are widely encouraging parents and students to opt out of the state tests. While I do not support teachers being evaluated and paid based on standardized test scores, I also do not support parents keeping children from taking the tests simply because they are blindly following advice that’s been disseminated by teachers’ unions or other special or political interests (or their neighbors). Check out this piece that discussed in-depth the issues surrounding Common Core and the opt-out movement in New York State:

When to Opt-Out

There are exigent circumstances under which I think it is completely appropriate for a parent to opt-out of their child being tested. I understand and support opting-out in situations where a child may have special needs that are very different from the generalized population. A good example of such a case would be a child with a disability or a language barrier that would markedly impact their ability to take or perform reasonably on such a test or who is not yet receiving accommodations that include alternate assessments. Or, for instance, the case of a child with such extreme testing anxiety that making the test mandatory would actually cause them undue harm or distress.

Testing is a Reality

Beyond these more extreme situations, testing is a reality of life that almost every person in every generation has had to go through at different points in their education, and will continue to have to, even if the Common Core standards do not survive long-term. If students want to go to private school, college, graduate school, or the military, or get certified to be a professional in any number of industries, they will undoubtedly be required to undergo a variety of tests in order to achieve that goal. And on another note, to parents who are opting out simply because they think that their child will not perform well, I say that every child is being held to the same standard here and when a question is badly worded or even incorrect, most students will not do well. It’s not so much about the grades and scores in younger grades; it’s about the experience of taking a test and practicing the many skills (focus, reading, following directions, writing, problem-solving, self-monitoring, time-management, and many more) that students must learn if they are going to consistently perform well on tests.

And as we all know, it is harder to acquire new skills and to feel comfortable in new situations as we age, so by not exposing students to these tests while they are young and the pressure is less, we may be setting them up for disaster in testing situations later on- when it actually counts towards their future. What is the student who opted out now going to do when she must take Regents, APs, and ACTs/SATs in order to gain admission to college? Testing anxiety is an unfortunate reality that many students of all ages face, but it can be greatly mitigated through practice, instruction, and good use of study, testing, and metacognitive strategies. In fact, subjecting students to a barrage of unnecessary tests now may have the unintended but desirable consequence of desensitizing students to these high-pressure testing situations later, so that they can perform better when it truly matters. This is not a defense of the Common Core, rather a practical choice to turn what is a negative aspect of our education system into an opportunity to help students acquire life skills.

Lessons to be Learned from Common Core Testing

The most important point of not opting out is this: Teaching students that “opting-out” of a task or assessment which virtually all of their peers are taking, just because it may be difficult or even a little “unfair”, is a questionable lesson to be teaching our youngsters. Is this going to be a generation of children who, when the going gets tough in life, simply “opt-out”? There is something to be said for teaching lessons of social justice via education and protest, which perhaps many parents think they are doing by opting their children out of testing. And maybe parents who opt-out are accomplishing just that: the beginning of the end of standardized testing. But sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen at all, as we are heading further into an era of standardization of everything and data-driven everything. So in fact, this opting-out movement may accomplish very little at all, while the children who are not participating in the testing may be missing out on an invaluable experience.

Taking a test is not necessarily the most “academic” of experiences or even one that should be so valuable; but it is a worthwhile and necessary experience because we are pragmatists living in the real world, and assessments of all kinds are real. As we all know, tests are necessary to have options in life and in one’s career. Opting-out in the adult world is generally impossible or will result in negative consequences or missed opportunities; doing one’s best, even when the task at hand is not easy or straightforward, is a life lesson that we can always be learning and reinforcing. That’s the teachable moment here: We live in a world that is not set up just for us, so acquiring a certain amount of mental fortitude and perseverance, (in addition to some actual test-taking experience), is invaluable.

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About Alex Yoken

Alex Yoken is a New York State certified teacher with over a dozen years of experience tutoring, coaching, advising, and providing advocacy services for students of all ages. She is passionate about helping individuals achieve their unique goals through tailored plans and the most effective strategies. She has given numerous workshops on college success, writing, and special ed advocacy.

Alex’s students have received Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars and The Journal of Trauma Nursing Literary Excellence Awards. She has helped dozens of students get admitted to college and study at prestigious institutions, including Cornell, Pepperdine, Tulane, and Duke.

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Having Alex as a tutor was amazing. She is patient, understanding and very supportive in many ways. Alex not only helped our son with his writing and vocabulary, she helped him organize his thoughts and strengthen his study skills. I highly recommend Alex as a tutor.

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When there are so many great things that can be said about a person, it is hard to find the right words that truly satisfy that person’s character. I first began working with Alex when I was a freshman in high school. Not having success with previous tutors, I concluded that tutors simply are not for me. However, Alex showed me otherwise; her personalized teaching style, depth of knowledge, attentive manner, and even sense of humor is above any tutor I’ve ever encountered. Beyond the skills that make Alex an effective yet enjoyable tutor, she also provides insight and guidance to those who are struggling in certain areas of their life. I have sought Alex’s help with challenges both big and small, and she always steers me in the right direction while teaching me important life skills in the process. As I am now approaching my senior year, I am overwhelmed with feelings of confidence and excitement because I know that I will have Alex by my side.

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I hired Alex to help me obtain a private school placement at the district’s expense for my 3rd grader, who is nonverbal and autistic. After hiring an ineffective attorney for the same purpose when my son was in first grade, Alex was able to accomplish this goal and got my son a placement in a specialized, private school program. While this endeavor took months of work, meetings, emails, and school visits to accomplish, my son is now in an appropriate program where he is able to learn and thrive. Additionally, Alex was able to get the school district to provide every single service, accommodation, and technology that I was requesting for my son. Alex is assertive, articulate, and knows the law and best educational practices. As such, she effectively and vociferously advocated on my son’s behalf and accomplished all of my goals. I highly recommend her to anyone in need of an advocate!

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I must admit that I was absolutely fortunate when I stumbled upon Alex’s website during my internet search a year and a half ago. I was desperately looking for someone to proof read my papers and assist in guiding me throughout the pursuit of my doctorate degree. With the guidance, support, and constructive criticism from this very knowledgeable, insightful, and patient individual I received As in all my courses. I truly enjoyed working with Alex.

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Alex is very well-versed and knowledgeable about many subjects. I have not been in school in over 20 years and now I am back to obtain my doctorate degree. Alex has helped me get organized and has assisted me with my APA citations, grammar, and word choice. My writing skills have improved significantly and every one of my papers has received an A. Alex has provided me with the skills I need to continue my studies. I am so lucky to have met Alex.

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Amanda: I am a student of Alex’s. I would recommend Alex to other students because she pushes you, gives you confidence, and she has a great sense of humor. She turns around any of your negative feelings into positive ones so you can believe in yourself to succeed.

Doretta: I am Amanda’s mom. Alex has a tremendous amount of patience. She is creative, funny, and very knowledgeable of her material. Alex tutored my daughter to obtain a driving permit. This was a major challenge for Amanda. Aside from needing help to learn the material, Amanda also has severe test anxiety. Amanda also has had many many tutors throughout her life. Alex not only helped Amanda learn the material and prepare for the test, but also made her believe in herself and decreased her anxiety. She is truly an awesome teacher and person. I highly recommend her to any struggling student.

– Amanda and Doretta Tarangioli, Eastchester, NY
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Alex is a hard working and extremely dedicated person. Not only is she able to help me better understand what I am studying but she also has a way of inspiring me to learn more. I have had many tutors and I know for a fact that Alex is by far the best. She pushes me to better myself and helps me become increasingly more interested in school. Alex helps me with whatever I need to improve on and is always the first and most excited to congratulate me on my accomplishments. After studying with Alex my grades have dramatically improved. This made it possible for me to get into a high honors English class after years of special Ed. Also with her help she made looking and applying for colleges an enjoyable experience. She is an amazing tutor and person and I can go on forever stating how much she has helped me become a confident student.

– Nicole L., Armonk, NY
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My daughter struggled with writing her college application essay. We were fortunate to meet Alex who not only helped our daughter select the appropriate subject matter and prepare a well-written essay, but minimized the stress and drama that comes with this process. Alex has great writing skills and she is very creative and extremely knowledgable about the admissions process. Alex is a pleasure to work with.

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Alex helped me with my personal statements for graduate school. It was helpful to brainstorm ahead of time because it made our sessions more productive. However, we brainstormed more throughout our sessions. She made me feel confident in my writing and the writing process less stressful. She took notes as we talked and cares about making a connection with her students. I definitely recommend her assistance! It was such a pleasure to work with her and I will be sure to keep in contact with her for future assignments!

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Alex has worked with my son for three months and the improvement we have seen has been tremendous. My son went from failing in math to exceeding his peers in class. He enjoys his sessions with Alex and as a matter of fact, looks forward to her coming to tutor him, he refers to it as “so much fun and interesting”. Alex provided our son with the necessary strategies to apply to solve math problems and we can see him applying those strategies in his homework assignments.  Our son went from 60’s and 70’s to 95 in scores for his math tests.  We are incredibly lucky and grateful to have found Alex. She has done wonders for our son and has been able to teach him in a manner where he understands and retains the information.  She has far exceeded our expectations in so little time.

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Alex has been working with our 2nd grade daughter for over a few months now, and she has had an amazing, positive impact on her. Alex is knowledgeable, hardworking, and extremely patient with our daughter who has been having some challenges reading. Alex was able to identify our daughter’s weaknesses and help provide the necessary strategies and techniques to help her improve her reading skills. Alex is an excellent tutor who my daughter says “makes reading fun”! She eagerly awaits and looks forward to her sessions with Alex as Alex never fails to have a clever game and fun worksheets for them to work on together. With Alex’s help, our daughter’s confidence has really grown, and her reading has significantly improved –she will actually read aloud now! We are so grateful to have found Alex – she has truly been able to teach our daughter in ways that she can understand and learn. We can’t thank Alex enough for all her hard work, and would highly recommend her. If you’re looking for an intelligent, dedicated and incredibly responsive tutor, look no further!

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Alex is an inspiring tutor, full of enthusiasm and knowledge. Her lessons are always personalized and tailored specifically to my daughter’s needs.  My 5th grade daughter always looks forward to meeting with Alex, as Alex always includes activities and games that make learning fun for her. I noticed her increase in confidence and it showed through her improvement in grades. Dedicated, professional, reliable – what more could you ask for! I would highly recommend Alex without any hesitation. Thank you, Alex!

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Alex worked with me very diligently and helped me with several college supplemental essays. Alex knew exactly what college admissions officers were looking for which helped me include critical information in my essays. Also, I was able to engage in conversation with Alex about how to go about revising my essays. She approaches the essay sentence by sentence and makes sure that the essential question: “so what?” is always answered within the writing. I recommend Alex as a tutor for anyone in need of help for any piece of writing.

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Alex is well prepared and detail-oriented and works hard during the sessions to make sure my son understands what she is working on with him.

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My adult brother has been working with Alex for the past few months. She is amazing! I have never known someone in this profession to be so patient, insightful and so good at breaking down challenges into pieces of a puzzle in order to find the best possible solution.

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Alex was able to help me improve my study and test-taking skills and I’m so glad I hired her! I am a nursing student in a competitive program and I felt lost given the vast amount of material that I had to study. Alex helped me use recall strategies like mnemonics to remember difficult terminology for exams. She was also helpful in teaching me metacognitive strategies for focus and self-monitoring during testing. I am especially grateful to Alex for helping me navigate through the difficult “red tape” of my program. She taught me effective self-advocacy techniques so that I was able to attain the outcome I was seeking by being assertive about my rights. I am now much more confident about going into my next semester of school and feel like I have the necessary skills to succeed.

–Sam Kudelka, Pleasantville, NY


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