The number of students who opted-out of taking New York’s standardized tests this year was more than 200,000 — and the fact that many third- through eighth-grade students did not take the test is a sign of growing resistance to testing and the trend toward making the tests harder to pass, according to state education officials.
Elizabeth A. Harris, reporting for The New York Times, writes that the number of students opting out quadrupled from last year, landing at 20% of all students eligible to be tested. This has distressed state and federal officials, who now have to make a decision whether or not to penalize schools and districts with high numbers of non-participating students.
The state Education Department said that approximately 900,000 of the 1.1 million students eligible to take the test actually took them. The rest did not and had no known reason, as the opt-out did not require one.
“Twenty percent of students cannot be called a fringe element,” said Loy Gross, co-founder of a refusal group called United to Counter the Core. “We’re getting the general public to understand that there are valid concerns about testings, and about the curriculum, and the direction where N.Y.S.E.D. is going. And that’s a good thing.”
This year just 31% of the state’s students passed reading tests and 38% passed math. Both of these numbers are slightly higher than last year’s scores, but were far below the passing rates of the easier pre-2013 exams. The high opt-out rate will certainly affect any comparison of year to year results.
Most importantly, when a state falls below the federal requirement of 95% participation in the annual third- through eighth- grade annual assessment, it can face sanctions from state and federal Education Departments. New York Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia says the state is in discussions with federal officials to see what the consequences will be since New York came in at such a low rate of participation.
New York City’s opt out rate, 1.4%, was significantly lower than the state average. On Long Island and in parts of Upstate New York, some areas had opt-out rates of over 50%. This could be because New York is said to have one of the tougher tests compared to other states, writes Jen Kirby of New York Magazine, and this year Governor Andrew Cuomo backed a measure to tie part of teachers’ evaluations to test scores. Elia said changing standards, although a good thing in her view, means that time will be needed for teachers and students to adapt.
Teachers unions have protested the evaluation mandate, and so have many parents. New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee had this to say:
“In a year in which record numbers of parents repudiated the state’s standardized testing program by ‘opting out,’ [scores] aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”
Abby Jackson, writing for Business Insider, says that parents across the state who had their children opt-out were simply voicing their frustration over the Common Core standards. Many said the tests included confusing questions and that the time taken in preparation for the tests and the time taking the tests took away from valuable instruction.
Magee said that the tests were not “valid indicators of student progress” and only existed to punish teachers, according to the New York Daily News. She continued by saying that teacher-conducted diagnostic tests were a better choice for teachers and students.