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On the last day of state testing, a sigh of relief and a protest rally

Students and teachers have more than perfect spring weather to celebrate this weekend. They are also celebrating the end of this year’s state tests, which finished today with a set of open-ended math questions.

Last week, students in grades three through eight sat for three days of English exams that got harsh reviews for being overly long and confusing at times. The tests seemed to fulfill the warnings from city and state officials that the transition to new standards called the Common Core would cause scores to plummet.

But on Wednesday, the first day of the math test, teachers said the test had been surprisingly easy — so easy, in fact, that some doubted that it actually reflected the challenges of the new standards.

After two more days of math testing, teachers said the exam had required more of the critical thinking skills that the Common Core emphasizes.

“The second two days were also easier than I expected, but I felt like they required the kids to stop and think,” said Bushra Makiya, a teacher at I.S. 303 in the Bronx.

University Neighborhood Middle School teacher Binh Thai tweeted, “Today, kids had to reason, analyze, explain, and justify their answers. Math test that felt #commoncore aligned.”

And David Baiz, a teacher at Global Technology Preparatory Middle School, said he appreciated seeing questions that allowed students to demonstrate understanding of mathematical concepts, rather than just concepts, which he had said dominated the first day of the math test. “Overall, I think it was a decent attempt to try to do Common Core alignment.”

While some were scrutinizing the tests’ rigor or celebrating their conclusion, others were sharply criticizing the tests’ very existence. Around 200 critics of the tests — who included parents, educators, and advocates — gathered on the steps of the Department of Education’s headquarters at the end of the day for a rally against high-stakes tests.

Some of them had children who had not taken the state tests out of protest as part of a movement that organizers hoped would grow this year. Casey Fuetsche, who has two children in testing grades, said about a third of students at the Earth School in the East Village had opted out of the exams.

“We’re just sick and tired of there being so much emphasis on the test,” she said.

Another Earth School parent, Linda Nagaoka, attended to show her opposition to the use of test scores to make important decisions about schools, students, and teachers. At the same time, she said, her daughter took this year’s tests because she is in fourth grade, the year when scores count for middle school admission.

“I admire people who opted out but we wanted to give our child as many options as possible,” Nagaoka said.

Another parent whose child took the state tests who stopped by to show his support was John Liu, the comptroller and mayoral candidate. “I support the parents having control over the destiny of their own kids’ education,” Liu said.

“But obviously having parents opt out in masse is not the long term solution,” he added. “The real solution is restoring the learning environment in the classroom and deemphasizing this extreme emphasis on high-stakes exams.”