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Fariña: Let’s respect those who opt out—and those who are “ready for the challenge”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña took a subtle shot at the growing number of parents who are opting their children out of this month’s state tests, noting that other parents are sending their students to school because they think they’re “ready for the challenge.”

At a press conference today in Queens, Fariña was asked for her opinion on the opt-out movement, which has parents pulling their children from class to protest the emphasis on test preparation and the city’s reliance on test scores to evaluate teachers, students and schools. Fariña first reiterated a need to respect parents’ choices, and then expanded her position.

“I think one of the things we as parents have to do sometimes is acknowledge that there are problems, but at the same time, that if you’re ready for those challenges, meeting them, it really makes you feel very good,” Fariña said.

The remarks are an in line with other comments Fariña has made about opting out not being the “way to get the best outcome.”

But in recent months, more parents have indicated that they disagree. Change the Stakes, an advocacy group, is estimating that 1,000 students may decline to take this year’s tests — a small portion of the city’s test-takers, but a sizable increase over past years.

Fariña was picked by Mayor Bill de Blasio in part because of her shared objections to the Bloomberg administration’s use of test scores to guide evaluations of schools and students. But now that she’s leading the school system, Fariña says shehas concerns about parents who don’t understand that allowing their students to opt out of the tests could affect where their children get placed in middle and high school.

“You know, parents do have choices to make, but they should be aware that all choices have consequences,” Fariña said.

Her comments were criticized by parents who decided to opt out. Janine Sopp, who is opting her fifth grade daughter out of this year’s exams, rebuffed the suggestion that she or other parents didn’t feel their children were prepared to take the tests.

“It’s not that the test is hard,” Sopp said. “The test is stupid. The questions are written in such a way that people with two master’s degrees have trouble answering it.”

“The joy of learning is being really damaged,” said Sopp. “That’s the point that’s being totally disregarded.”

Last week, Fariña told principals to respect a parent’s decision to opt their children out of taking the state tests. But Sopp’s group, Change the Stakes, which has organized parents at several schools this year to opt out of standardized tests, sent an open letter to Fariña yesterday saying that principals have not heeded her wishes. The letters says that administrators have been “bullying” parents with misleading information about their right to opt out of the test.

Some supporters of the new Common Core learning standards have characterized parent critics faced with their children’s lower scores as being unable to accept that their children aren’t as proficient in reading and math as they originally believed. Last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan apologized for “clumsy” remarks about “white suburban moms” concerned upset about their children’s scores.

Speaking at the same press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio took a softer tone.

“I understand your frustrations,” de Blasio said. “When my children were participating in high-stakes testing, I saw the same dynamics that many other parents have seen. Kids feel very nervous. They feel overwhelmed by the process.”

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