North Carolina Sixth Grader Refuses Common Core Tests

Published June 5, 2013

North Carolina sixth grader Zoe Morris says the new standardized tests in her Chapel Hill middle school are wrong, and she wants out.  

Zoe and her father, Charlie, began researching Common Core national standards after he realized “teachers were teaching from scripts,” Charlie said, and Zoe began to register frustration in school.

“Kids would ask questions in class and the teachers would say, ‘I can’t answer that—it isn’t part of the curriculum,'” Zoe said.   

Deciding she needed to spotlight this change and support her teachers, Zoe opted not to take the new state tests, which contain elements of Common Core.

Common Core defines what children must know in K-12 math and English for 45 states. Because it feeds into tighter sanctions and new teacher evaluations, parents have been pulling their kids from tests nationwide.

Test or Repeat a Grade
Charlie notified the district Zoe would refuse the test several weeks before it was scheduled for her school. Confusion soon ensued over district testing policy. Initially, administrators said Zoe could attend school and not take the test.

Yet once she arrived at school on testing day, the principal told Zoe to take the test or leave, Charlie said. The district lawyer later told Charlie that Zoe had to take the test or jeopardize her ability to move up to seventh grade.

“The district doesn’t have a choice but to comply with North Carolina Department of Instruction (NCDI) policies,” said Jeffrey Nash, a Chapel Hill-Carrborough City Schools spokesman.

NCDI policy states a school does not have to test students who are absent, but if an untested student returns within 10 days, he or she must take a makeup test.  This gets “sticky,” Nash said, because students must attend a certain number of calendar days or be held back a grade.

Zoe ultimately decided to face the testing computer but not enter any answers.

Options for Parents
No federal law requires students to submit to standardized tests, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for advocacy nonprofit Fair Test. 

The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to test 95 percent of students, and states must use the results, in part, to evaluate the school. Schools that do not show adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years face penalties, including losing federal funds. 

“When faced with the possibility of sanctions, state education departments and districts often employ their own consequence regimes,” Schaeffer said.

“Parents who are fed up with over-testing in schools” have several options, Schaeffer said, including encouraging school boards and legislatures to adopt resolutions to reduce testing.  Parents and teachers lobbied the Texas legislature to cut high stakes testing by two-thirds this spring.

For their part, Charlie and Zoe have begun the Blue Hat Movement as a vehicle for parents and teachers to register their concerns about testing.  They have also helped coordinate national testing opt-out days.

Image by Michael Surran.