New York Enters Testing Season Amid Opt-Out Push

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

New York, which hosts the country’s largest school district, experienced a record-breaking number of students opting not to take required state exams last year. By the time school ended in June, 20% of the state’s entire number of students had decided not to participate in the testing.

Now, as the annual testing season is about to begin, education officials are attempting to persuade parents to trust the system again because meaningful changes have been made to the exams since the last test-taking period, according to Nicole Gorman of Education World.

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told parents last week that this year there has been more teacher involvement in the creation of the exams. But the New York Post reported that the state’s teachers are not convinced that education leaders are doing all they can do. In fact, many teachers have been emailing parents to express their support of the opt-out campaign.

‘It’s your right to opt out of the NY State Tests … Alternative educational activities are planned for all students opting out,’ one email sent by a third grade PS 8 teacher said,” according to the Post.

The Post added that teachers at one school coordinated and sent a four-page letter to parents “slamming the exams and applauding the 73 percent of parents who opted out last year.”

Administrators are also speaking out against the exams by being explicit in their explanation to parents that they have a right to refuse to allow their child to take the tests.

State standardized testing began on Tuesday, and according to Lindsey Christ of NY1, the pressure of the opt-out movement worked. City and state officials have made the changes that parents have requested. The excessive prep times have been lessened, and the test scores will not be used for teacher evaluations. The exams will not influence which schools should be closed, nor will they be used as a determinant of whether students advance to the next grade level.

Parents asked for shorter tests and no time limitations, and they got what they wanted. Still, test protesters are promising to raise the number of students who opt out of this year’s examinations.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his head of schools say students should take the tests. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has told parents that they are teaching their children that it is acceptable to skip their work at school. She continued by reminding parents that children need to accountable for their school work.

A collective of advocacy groups and businesses are running advertisements that plead with parents to “opt-in.” Otherwise, say the ads, there is no way to compare academic performance in schools, which means that students of color are likely to get stuck in perpetually poorly performing schools.

Derrell Bradford of the High Achievement New York Coalition noted that families lose their power and the information they need to improve their kids’ education. But even the new Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa supports skipping the exams, and she is the person who oversees the assessments.

Bethany Bump, writing for the Albany TimesUnion, points out that the tests are given to students in grades 3 through 8. Generally, the English test for this year will have one less reading passage and short essay, and the English and math exams will have from four to seven fewer multiple-choice questions. Also, each question on the test has been reviewed by at least 22 educators statewide for relevance and age-appropriateness.

Many parents and instructors say they cannot see that much has changed about the exams, reports Ellen Abbot for WRVO Public Radio.

North Syracuse third-grade teacher Christy Normanly told WRVO that she still spent a large chunk of class time teaching her kids how to take the assessment this year.

“They sit. They’re afforded the opportunity to use the rest room, to get a drink. And they’re told they have to sit for 60 minutes at least. I don’t know. That’s the tough part. They’re eight years old. They’re squirrely.”

In an editorial in the New York Post, the writers accused the state of heading toward testing that will not expose students’ academic problems.

It is simple, say the Post’s editors – yearly assessments are needed to measure learning. The information collected about students, teachers, and schools from the exams is critical.