Letter: Saugerties School Board must exercise leadership on testing issue

preschool SQFor those who may not know, it is legal in New York for a parent to refuse their child’s participation in the state standardized tests (grades 3-8) for any reason.

I am not against testing in general. I’m against the current tests for a number of reasons. The English Language Arts test is, by many accounts, a bad test, at times written above grade-level reading standards. It is seemingly designed for high failure rates, which in turn will be used as further excuse to strip more funding from “failing” public schools in favor of more corporate-run charter schools (which can pick and choose whatever students they desire, leaving the most challenged students to the underfunded public schools which must accept all comers). The tests are created and graded not by the State Board of Education but by a testing corporation which strips even more funding from public schools. And if Gov. Cuomo has his way, the underachieving scores will account for half of our teachers’ evaluations, setting them up to be labeled ineffective and possibly lose their jobs. The law says no one has to let their kid(s) take it, and I intend to exercise that right as a minor form of protest against the above.

Why is it legal to refuse what would otherwise appear to be a mandatory standardized test? I have no idea. Why does almost no one know that refusal is legal? In great measure because administrators and teachers in New York are mysteriously forbidden say anything to anyone about the test. Isn’t it part of a BOE’s job to educate the public about important matters such as this? Not in Saugerties, it seems.


Testing guidelines stipulate that there may be no non-test materials on a child’s desk during testing, and that an absent child must take the test at a later date. The guidelines do not address what to do with students whose parents exercise their right to refuse (or “opt out” of) the tests, so there is a protocol vacuum. If the Saugerties BOE fails to institute their own guidelines the result will be a mindless and relatively cruel “sit and stare” scenario for non-test takers, forced to sit idly at their desks without anything to occupy them for the duration of the exams.

On March 10, a handful of parents, including myself, addressed the BOE with concerns about this situation. The BOE is well within its right — indeed, is charged with the responsibility — to devise and enact policies to better the education and well-being of students in their district. An alternative to “sit and stare” will improve the test-takers experience (by removing fidgety kids from seats next to them) and deal humanely with the “opt-outs.” Setting such a policy would by no means be a rogue or illegal action on the part of the BOE. Other districts in our area — and across the state — have already addressed this situation (at least one has outright told parents to boycott the test!).

Board of Education President, George Heidcamp, recently sent an email to his “constituents” (who are apparently not the community at large). In it he responds negatively to our requests. In his thinking, districts who adopted opt-out policies “caved in to the pressure of… special interest groups.”

In my opinion, teachers should be given the discretion to allow non-test takers to sit quietly in a corner of the classroom — or another room — and read a book or do class assignments. “If the board were to approve such a policy,” Heidcamp bemoans in his email, “we would then need to hire extra teachers to monitor the ‘opt-outs’ while the other 97 percent follow the law and take the test.” Here he reveals his true nature: malicious budget watchdog. I also suggested PTA volunteers could monitor the opt-outs, but that detail doesn’t fit Heidcamp’s spending narrative (he later uses italics to emphasize taxpayers expense (sic)).

As for his implication that students who don’t take the test are in violation of the law, this is reprehensible enough but he goes further: “It appears to me that when parents encourage their children not to follow the rules, they are the ones who are doing a disservice to and being cruel to the kids.” If he would check his facts, Heidcamp might understand that “the rules,” in this case, allow parents to refuse the test.

Mr. Heidcamp (and the special interest group he calls his constituents) needs to pull his head out of the legal sand and start showing something resembling thoughtful leadership. His “just following orders” drivel is not a policy. I challenge the BOE to a Sit and Stare contest. If they can go the length of the test sitting quietly at a desk under fluorescent light, without begging for mercy or being otherwise annoying to anyone around them, then I’ll let my kid do the same.

Alex Rappoport