Letter to those skipping Common Core tests prompts concern

SILVER CREEK – Common Core has become the giant elephant in the room, which schools across the county have mixed feelings about.

Silver Creek Central School asked parents who did not want their children to take the tests to send in refusal letters by April 1.

Several parents sent in refusal letters and as a result, Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich sent out a letter to these parents asking them if they would meet with him April 22 at 4 p.m.

The letter stated they had the option of coming to the meeting, meeting with him one on one, or not coming at all.

A Silver Creek parent felt the letter was “bullying” and was concerned about the school trying to change her mind about her children not taking the test.

“I understand their hands are tied,” Gina Hallmark said. “However, I honestly feel like they are not honoring our decisions and trying to bully us into changing our minds.”

Hallmark explained parents refuse these tests for different reasons. All parents have their own beliefs about the tests and how they affect their children.

Ljiljanich assured parents the meeting is only meant to provide them with more information about the tests and not meant to change anyone’s mind on the topic.

“Parents have a right to refuse the tests,” he said. “My goal is to provide the parents with more information they perhaps didn’t have on the subject.”

Ljiljanich stressed he is not trying to convince parents to change their minds. He just wants to share information since the Common Core subject has been so overwhelming.

Hallmark has a fourth grader and sixth grader who are upset they need to be in the room with nothing to do while other students are taking the test. Parents view the “sit and stare” policy as a form of punishment to their children for refusing the test.

The sit and stare policy means any student who refuses to take the test has to remain in the testing room for the duration of the test. They are not allowed to have books or other homework present while in the room. If these students opt to not come to school during testing days, they are marked with an unexcused absence.

“I don’t want my kids to be punished just because they refuse to take the tests,” Hallmark said. “My fourth grader has a learning disability and it is very hard for him to have to sit there for an hour or two with nothing to do.”

Ljiljanich confirmed the sit and stare policy is something the school will continue to enforce because the students still need to be present in the classroom.

Hallmark is worried Ljiljanich is only interested in giving his opinion and is not interested in the parents’ point of view.

“I feel they are insulting my integrity and my knowledge by saying my choice about my children isn’t good enough,” she said. “They should respect our choices and we should all agree to disagree on these tests.”

Ljiljanich said he did not mean to sound confrontational in his letter. He set up this meeting to help parents not to obligate them to feel pressured into anything.

“There has been so much information in the media about Common Core,” he said. “I think Common Core is helping students and parents don’t have to feel like they need to convince me why they choose to refuse the tests.”

Hallmark pressed this is not meant as an attack on the school.

“I think the teachers and superintendent do a tremendous job with our children,” she said. “We just feel Common Core is taking away the whole individual feeling in a classroom.”

Hallmark added the loopholes of Common Core are making it hard on the student body.

“I think Common Core makes it very hard for teachers to individualize,” she said. “I think the teachers go the extra mile to teach my kids and do a tremendous job, but I feel Common Core is taking away from my kids’ education.”

Ljiljanich does not want parents to come to the meeting if they feel pressured in any way.

“If they believe the goal of the meeting is to pressure them into anything, they shouldn’t come to the meeting,” he said.

Hallmark believes the meeting is important and wants to emphasize to the other parents they should attend it and address their concerns about Common Core and these tests.

“My motto is persistence wears down resistance,” she said. “I feel we are singled out and attacked as a group because the meeting is only for parents who sent in refusal letters.”

Ljiljanich wants parents to know this is not his intention. He does not feel all parents need to come to the meeting. He said he just wants to share information specifically about the tests.

“The tests are very, very hard,” Hallmark said. “My children felt very relieved when I opted them out of taking the tests and a lot of their anxiety went away.”

“When any kid falls behind, I don’t think Common Core helps them,” she continued. “Kids get no extra help and I feel there is a lack of education.”

Ljiljanich is not interrogating people; he said this is not meant as a cross examination meeting.

“Someone was put off because I said I wanted to share my information,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel like they have to defend their choices.”

“Perhaps some parents will benefit from my take,” he continued. “We try to have a very positive relationship with parents.”

Ljiljanich went on to say he would meet with the parents one-on-one someplace neutral if they so choose.

“If they feel meeting me in my office is too intimidating, I would buy them lunch,” he said. “We could meet someplace else for lunch or coffee.”

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