The English Language Arts (ELA) standardized tests connected to the Common Core curriculum began this week with high numbers of Onteora Central School District students, with 61 percent of third through eighth graders being opted out, or refusing to take the English Language Arts (ELA) tests, according to figures supplied by Assistant Superintendent for Business and interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren. Out of a total of 618 students enrolled in grades 3-8 at Onteora, only 239 took the tests.
The refusals are in concert with statewide protests against the Common Core testing. The Rochester Teachers Association, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, says that about 80 percent at one school and 67 percent at another opted out. Gannett reports that Mahopac’s interim school superintendent say that 55 percent of middle school students and 45 percent of elementary school students had refused to sit for the tests; the New York Daily News reported that opt outs were running nearly 70 percent in West Seneca and 65 percent in Suffolk County’s Patchogue-Medford district, and quotes another upstate superintendent as saying the opt out number could be as high as 300,000 of the 1.1 million students eligible for the tests this year. Last year, 60,000 students opted out statewide.
Locally Saugerties did not provide out opt out rates, and Kingston says it will release the figures at the end of the testing period, after next week’s math tests.
According McLaren’s figures, as of Tuesday, April 14, the day ELA testing began, in Bennett Intermediate School grades four-through-six, 66 percent, or 212 out of 321 students refused the test. Woodstock Primary School was even lower at 27 percent participation rate and 73 percent refusaing. At Phoenicia Primary School the participation rate was 47 percent and Onteora Middle School participation rate was 47 percent. The tests lasts for three days, for approximately 90 minutes each day. Next week there will be three days of Math standardized tests. In order to opt-out, students are required to fill in a bubble on the test that states the test refusal and can then sit quietly and read.
According to the New York State School report card, participation should be at 95 percent or the school will get cited as not meeting standards.
The tests do not affect student grades or performance evaluation. But they are a critical benchmark in Governor Cuomo’s push to find a better way to evaluate teacher performance. “We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual checkup,” Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, told a meeting of superintendents last month, as quoted in The New York Times. “Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination. We should not refuse to take the test.”
A Facebook page, “Onteora Refuse the Tests,” was created and has helped disseminate information for parents, including newspaper articles on how other districts are opting-out. The goal is to send Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Education Department a message that the standardized tests have become too much of a central focus, resulting in a chipping away of quality curriculum.
Fletcher not running for board
After two terms, or six years serving as a trustee for the Onteora Central School District Board of Education, School Board President Tony Fletcher has decided not to seek reelection this May. In an email he circulated among friends, he asked “that at least one of you on this list consider running in my place.” The reason given for his departure is to finish a book and travel with his wife and younger child towards the end of 2015. He writes, “One of the biggest misperceptions about serving on a school board is that it is a ‘thankless’ job. I disagree. Not only do people within the community frequently thank trustees for their commitment, but the service offers its own reward. School boards are a last bastion of ‘local control’ in our increasingly centralized society, and for all that I see public education, especially here in New York State with our current Governor, as being under attack from the forces of big business and privatization, I believe that the best way to protect and determine our future, of our own district and of public education in general, is to serve on the front line, i.e. on one’s school board. It is a role in which you truly can make a difference.”
There are three board seats up for election this year, with Fletcher, Laurie Osmond and Bobbi Schnell (who filled Tom Hickey’s seat when he resigned) coming to the end of their terms. Both Osmond and Schnell intend to seek re-election. To date, Valerie Storey has handed in a petition. Two seats have a three-year term from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018. Hickey’s seat is vacant for one year from May 19, 2015 to June 30, 2016. Petitions are available to nominate candidates at the central offices on Route 28 in Boiceville or on the district website by going to onteora.k12.ny.us. Petitions must have at least 25 registered voter signatures from the district. Petitions must be returned by 5 p.m., Monday April 20.
School board elections and budget vote are May 19.