Last week, students and parents in New Paltz and Highland protested what they see as excessive standardized testing under the Common Core standards by refusing to take state reading exams. According to New Paltz Superintendent Maria Rice, on April 1 — the first day of testing — 19.8 percent of students at Lenape Elementary School refused the English language arts test. At New Paltz Middle School, 24 percent of students sat out the test too.
Under a recently instituted district policy, if students in New Paltz refuse to take a test or come with a parental permission letter, they’re free to leave the exam room to read a book or magazine.
“It was a little hectic in the morning, because we got a lot of new letters in. Some students were refusing at the table. Some students were calling their parents, asking their parents to contact the school so they could refuse. Parents saying, ‘I want you to take it’ and kids not wanting to take it. It was very interesting,” Rice said.
Language tests for grades 3-8 lasted until the end of last week, so the final numbers were expected to be slightly different. New Paltz school administrators are preparing a complete report on opt-outs for the first school board meeting in May.
According to the group NYS Allies for Public Education, which opposes high-stakes testing, statewide at least 30,000 kids refused to take the ELA exams this year. Brooklyn and Long Island were key hotspots for the protest, but Red Hook and New Paltz had high refusal rates too.
Bianca Tanis, of New Paltz, is a teacher in Rockland County and a mother of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. She’s involved in Allies for Public Education, but also the local group Rethinking Testing.
Kids with disabilities or special education needs struggle under the new tests, Tanis said, adding that she’s seen it firsthand as a special ed teacher.
The thought of what her son might go through urged her on. “It was really upsetting. I could imagine what it would look like,” she said. “He loves school. He’s made so much progress, but he was reading way below grade level.
“So the idea of taking this child, who is very innocent and loves school, putting him in a room with a test that he can’t read — he would look at his teacher and say, ‘Help me’ in this very innocent, happy way. She would be forced to say, ‘I can’t help you. Just do your best.’ I just could not fathom that happening to him.”
Her crusade to get her son out of the testing room helped prompt a wider protest in New Paltz. It also spurred the Board of Education to adopt that policy.
At first, when she called the school to pull her son out of the state testing, administrators told her he was mandated to take the test. “I was told he’d have to come to school for all three days of the test, say the words ‘I refuse’ and then come on all three makeup days and say ‘I refuse’ on those days.”
It left her and other parents who objected to the tests feeling frustrated and alone. “Last year, a lot of us felt like people looked at us like we were crazy,” she said. “So much has changed in a year.”