New York City teachers and students express their views about opting out of the Common Core Standardized MLA and ELA exams.

By Ashley Oliver

New York State education is at a crossroad with students, parents of students, and states’ educational policy makers. At the forefront of the ‘tug-of-war’ is high–stakes testing. 

Students are generally averse to taking standardized exams, but in recent years, a growing number of parents are instructing their children to opt out of standardized exams.  There is a mounting opposition to reject teaching to the test, and to foster a curriculum that emphasizes critical-thinking.

“Board of Ed (education) created this test for students to fail,” said Olga Sligh in an interview, 54, a school psychologist at Roberto Clemente Public School in East New York, Brooklyn. “[Board of Education] did not think of the impact Common Core would have on students, parents, and teachers, especially black and Latino students.”

The number of students opting out of the standardized exams has increased by nearly 64%, according to New York State Allies for Public Education, which is a group of parents and residents who advocate reduced testing, statistics reveal 177,249 students opted out of the English Language Arts standardized test last week. However, under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new April 1st budget deal, the more students who opt out, the less funding public schools will receive.

The dissent among students, teachers, and parents over testing is the rejection of theCommon Core’s principle that student academic growth can be measured solely by a standardized exam.

In an interview, Shondra Whaley, 43, a fifth grade teacher at Roberto Clemente Public School said, “It’s not realistic for students to take all these tests. Students academic ability shouldn’t be confined to a test.”

Whaley believes Cuomo’s teacher evaluation system is not effective. “More than half my class didn’t perform at grade level before I got them. Teachers should have more jurisdiction on what students learn,” she said.

Peter Ashfield, 14, an eighth grader at North Star Academy in Flatbush, Brooklyn expressed concern about undue stress caused by lengthy testing,

“I have a 94 average and I still have to get extra tutoring to help me finish this test on time. [The exams] are really long with Common Core. I would opt out too if I knew because I didn’t really learn much, I only learned how to take a long test in two hours,” said Ashfield in an interview.

Meanwhile, in an interview, Lorraine Trimm, 41, a fourth grade teacher at Roberto Clemente Public School said, “Kids will opt out because the test wasn’t introduced correctly. The old standardized test was gradually introduced with the correct curriculum. When my daughter is of age to take the exam, I wouldn’t want her to take it either because it dumbs down the learning process and teaches [students] process of elimination.”

To add to the chorus of discontent, Michael Straughn, 44, a senior movement-science major at York College in Jamaica, Queens, voices his concerns about the emphasis of academics at the expense of music and art in school under the Common Core Curriculum.

“What ever happened to art?” asked Straughn in an interview. “I didn’t make my son take the exam and he’s in an honors program. In England, we had fun integrated into the curriculum, but now students are seen as products to make money off of,” he said.

Proponents of testing firmly believe that assessment of student growth over the course of a school year is best achieved through formative assessment.

In an interview, Jinny Chung, 58, the assistant principal of Philippa Schuyler Middle School in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said, “The test introduces students to a different aspect of critical thinking skills. That’s what students need, but the test should have been gradually introduced. Students should take the test because it’s training them for the writing skills they need to acquire in college.  [Students] can’t just give up in the real world.”

Another criticism leveled at the Common Core Curriculum is the apparent profit motive at the expense of students’ education, particularly in low-income communities.

“Students are on different grade levels,” Whaley said. She continued, “America is supposed to be where children thrive in education, but it feels like this a money making experiment. The Board of Education cares more about a test than the students’ needs.”



The cast of Seinfeld, which is an internationally recognized sitcom/comedy, have just gained a whole bunch of other fans. After a family member of an ill fan reached out to the cast, they agreed to celebrate his 67th birthday with him. Sadly, this may be the man’s last birthday, but at least it will be an amazing memory he, his loved ones, and the cast of Seinfeld will cherish forever. And maybe they may include it in their museum in Manhattan.

Check out the link to the story here. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/01/living/seinfeld-cast-terminally-ill-birthday-videos-feat/

Also,  to lighten the mood, watch a funny birthday video from an episode



I want to thank Queens Press and the Tribune for republishing my story on Peyton Manwaring,My first murder story, unfortunately. I hope my story brings awareness and hopefully lead to limiting gun violence. PLEASE SHARE IF YOU KNEW HIM/ ANYONE THAT DID. Also, for those who knew him or want to show their respect, his memorial will be held on December 12th in St. Claire’s Catholic Church at 10 AM.

manwaring press

CHECK IT OUT ON MY SITE AS WELL! http://ashleyoliververified.com/feature-articles/


Recently, I watched a documentary about a Texan man who may have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. In this case, circumstantial evidence and prosecutorial misconduct may have wrongfully convicted a possibly innocent man to his death. Death by Fire made me realize how difficult covering a court beat can be. I encourage everyone to watch it and let me know what you think. Do you think he was innocent it or guilty? I believe he was innocent, but everyone has their own opinion. Take into consideration, they ignored all the evidence that may have proved his innocence. Oh, and TRUST ME this is NOT a boring documentary. It kinda reminded me of a Lifetime movie.



Hmm… I’m  actually interested to start a discussion.

Human Trafficking Increase Worries CUNY Students Studying Abroad

This year, 43 enthusiastic CUNY students will participate in the study abroad program in Western Europe. In contrast, the projected amount of American sex-trafficking victims in Western Europe for 2015 is 914 persons.

The study abroad office at Hunter College released a mass email in October to all students attending senior CUNY colleges about applying to the program. However, 7 out of 51 countries involved in the program are located in Western Europe. According to the 2015 Global Slave Index, 70 percent of the world’s sex trafficking occurs in those countries. Romania and Ukraine are the preferred destinations for this activity, based on United Kingdom National Committee for United Nations Women statistics. Ironically, those same countries have 73 percent of sex trafficking victims from the desired destination for 43 percent of students in the study abroad program.

Western Europe is home to a series of iconic places, but the image of Western Europe as a destination spot for human trafficking seems surreal to some students.

“Eastern Europe and the Middle East are the first places that come to mind when I think about sex trafficking,” said Aaliyah St. Bernard, 20, a junior at Brooklyn College. “Sight seeing and towers are stuff that I think of when I think of Western Europe.”

York College senior, Shavon Richards, 24, said, “Human trafficking is the last thing anyone would associate with Western Europe. The worst that happens there are protests of the constitutional monarchy.”

Some faculty, however, attribute the lack of awareness of sex trafficking in Western Europe to students not attending advisory meetings prior to their departure.

York College Higher Education Officer Jean Phelps believes students who do not take time to educate themselves about any country before going will be more likely to be at risk.

“College students are adults,” said Phelps. “As adults, students need to learn about anything they do before they do it or else they should be prepared to face the consequences.”

“Before venturing to any countries, there are advisory meeting students should attend,” added Richard Mitten, the Director of the Study Abroad Program at Baruch College. “If a student wants to attend, that’s their own decision.”

While some students participating in the program are aware of potential trafficking risks abroad, it is not a major concern to them.

Dwayne Johnson, 23, a senior at City College said, “The entire purpose for going away is to higher education in a brand new setting. There are crimes everywhere. Students can get trafficked in America, too.”

“Going to Europe is a dream of mine,” said Richards of York College. “Human trafficking will be the least of my problems. I think it’s unlikely that students will be trafficked if they do what they have to do in school and stay aware.”

Still, other travelers are going to lengths of educating themselves about human trafficking in all its aspects before embarking on their trip.

“I’m not going anywhere before I learn about all the risks,” said Kyle Bethel, a junior at York College. “I’m almost done with school and too many students don’t think before they do stuff. I don’t want to die before I graduate. The reason I will go is to experience life more through learning not jumping into something to die.”

As of now, International Education Manager, Kim Holland, from CUNY’s Office of International Education said she is unaware of any sex trafficking cases in Western Europe. Although Holland was not able to release the data, an August 2015 report from the National Human Resources Center stated that there were 117 reported cases of sex trafficking in New York.

Despite the inherent risks for traveling abroad, the United States Department of State offers enrollment in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free service that allows students who travel abroad to be able to get in contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they will be studying.

Phelps of York College said, “Students are still going to go to Europe at the end of the day. Nothing should stop them from going though. You learn from experience. You just have to be wise before making decisions that can change your life.”