Record numbers of students have opted out of the New York State exams this year, with local districts reflecting the general tone of parents and educators across the state when it comes to standardized testing. Students in grades 3 to 8 who attend public schools sat for the ELA exams last week and are taking the math tests this week, though many of those students—a total of 82,036 on Long Island—spent those two hours reading instead of participating in the tests. In North Shore and Locust Valley schools, 40 percent of eligible students opted out of the exams. Although official numbers were not available, 398 students had refused to take the exams as of Monday, April 20, according to the Glen Cove Parents for Common SENSE Education Facebook page.
“We did have significantly more this year, but final numbers are not yet available as requests come in over days,” said Maria L. Rianna, superintendent of the Glen Cove School District. “Some take [the math assessment] who may have opted out of ELA and vice versa.”
The state tests are required by the federal government as a required part of the instructional program, and there is no provision in law or regulation for a parent to refuse the tests, according to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
“I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing,” said Tisch in a recent speech she gave to the NYS Council of School Superintendents. “I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have. We are not going to force kids to take tests. That’s not the New York way. But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.”
Under federal regulations, if a school has less than 95 percent of its students participating in the assessments, the school could lose significant federal funding. But schools could lose more than federal dollars.
“Opting out could cost us much of the progress we have made, and damage the work that still needs be done for our most vulnerable students,” said Tisch.
According to New York State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman: “Every parent should know whether his or her child is on track for success in the fifth grade or high school graduation or success in college. Every parent should know how a child in his or her school compares to other children in the district, region, and state. And every taxpayer should know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education. In short, test refusal is a mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. Those who call for opting out really want New York to opt out of information that can help parents and teachers understand how well their students are doing. We can’t go back to ignoring the needs of our children. It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students.”
“I do not anticipate any impact,” said Dr. Ed Melnick, superintendent of North Shore Central School District. “We may be included on a list of schools not making yearly adequate progress due to the number of opt outs, but I do not see any other impact.”
Some parents said they chose to opt out their children because they don’t believe in what the assessments stand for while others said they had their children take the tests, but may consider opting out as more information becomes available.
“I possibly will opt out in the future because I don’t like how focused the curriculum is on the tests, but I didn’t do enough research to feel comfortable to opt out,” said Patricia Kaegi Weiss, whose fourth-grade daughter attends Sea Cliff Elementary. “She’s not really stressed about them as I told her they don’t really matter and are good practice for the future.”
“I have mixed feelings on results of the refusal numbers,” said Jeanette Deutermann, founder and administrator of Long Island Opt Out and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education. “I would love for nothing more than to know that legislators, Governor Cuomo and the State Education Department have finally heard us loud and clear as to what we want and do not want for our children’s education here in New York. Unfortunately, we continue to hear the rhetoric that ‘parents just do not understand how important these tests are.’ It is not that we do not understand the importance of knowing the progress of our children, it’s that we do not believe that these assessments are valid or useful in any way to give us that information on how they are progressing. We value the importance of child-centered, hands-on learning, and these common core assessments have robbed our children of that rich, creative learning environment all children deserve. We will continue to refuse these assessments in growing numbers until Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and the SED reverses course.”