As state testing for grades 3-8 is set to begin next month, parents returned to the Board of Education during the March meeting to speak out against state tests and the way the district handles students who opt out of testing.
How Saugerties stands out
When parents choose to have their children opt out of testing, local districts differ in what they allow those students to do during testing time. In some local districts, like Kingston and New Paltz, students have been allowed to go to an alternate location and read silently. In Saugerties, however, those who opt out must sit in the testing room with the test booklet in front of them for the length of the exam. Advocates have labeled this “sit and stare.”
Saugerties Superintendent Seth Turner has spoken out in the past about the lack of direction from Albany regarding how to handle such situations. He said he felt former Education Commissioner John King was “vague” when questioned about how to proceed with students who opt out.
In the absence of a specific directive, Turner has said those districts that provide an alternate location or allow reading materials have “no legal authority to do so.” In his interpretation, Saugerties is following the law; other districts are breaking it.
The parents gave a number of reasons for opting out of testing.
Parent Andrea Burch said she was opposed to the weight that the tests will carry on teacher evaluations, and said she wanted to support the teachers by boycotting the tests. Parent Barbara Engel echoed this, and said she believed control should be kept in the classroom.
Parent Tina Montano said her straight-A daughter, who received a score of two out of four on a test last year, thought she had failed. Montano said she didn’t think her daughter had failed, but rather, “we failed her.”
Another cause for concern was how the tests would be used to benefit instruction. Montano said one of her children received a four out of four on a test, and was offered no advanced placement. When her child received a two, she was not given intervention. She said she did not believe the scores were being used to drive instruction.
Parents also expressed their displeasure over Saugerties’ opt out policy.
Some called it punitive. Jennifer Mangione, who told the board they should expect more children opting out this year, said it serves no benefit for any student to sit and stare for that length of time. She called it “unfair.” Burch called it “cruel.”
Alex Rappaport said it’s a “form of punishment” and a distraction to other students in the room.
Mangione asked the board to consider holding a public hearing on sit and stare, just as it did earlier this month on the question of polling places. Though the board had previously agreed to put the item on the agenda for its next meeting, parents said this wouldn’t be good enough, since the testing would already have begun by the April board meeting.
The petition received more than 200 signatures in three days.