The district has been criticized for requiring students who opt out to remain in the classroom with the test booklet on the desk in front of them for the duration of testing, which lasts six entire school days. The practice was dubbed “sit and stare” by critics. A petition was circulated this spring asking the district to reconsider this policy.
The district’s answer is to provide work packets for students to complete, drawn up by teachers and administrators. At the April 14 School Board meeting, Superintendent Seth Turner presented the packets as a compromise between the previous practice and those of some other districts, which reportedly allowed students to read quietly in the classroom or another room. He called it a “Solomon-like decision.” Turner was thanked for his efforts by both Hyatt and Trustee Krista Barringer, who said she was happy to see the administration providing guidance on the issue.
English Language Arts testing is April 14-16. Math testing will be April 22-24.
At the meeting, Turner and some members of the board argued that there was never a sit and stare policy in prior years. Trustee Florence Hyatt said she did not want to have the reputation of condoning something that was detrimental to children. Trustee Damion Ferraro argued that, while there was not a sit and stare policy so to speak, there hadn’t been a “sit and read policy” either.
Prior to this year’s test, the administration met and directed the building principals to work with their faculty to create alternative activities. According to Assistant Superintendent Larry Mautone, some of these alternative activities were created as a collaborative effort, while others were created by individual teachers Mary Garland, president of the Saugerties Teachers Association, said teachers had been asked to create assignments with “rigor” that were appropriate for the curriculum and age of the students. The packets do not count toward a student’s grade for the quarter.
Parent response was mixed. One parent who spoke at the meeting said her seventh grader had been told if he didn’t take the standardized tests, he’d have an even more rigorous assignment to complete. Turner asked her to bring the issue to the teachers and principal of that particular school. Trustee Hyatt echoed this recommendation, saying if any parents felt they or their children had experienced intimidation they should speak with the building administration. She said no one at the table would condone such a situation.
On the other hand, parent Emily Trotter-Bodie said her fourth grade son refused the test and had a “pleasant experience.” She said she felt the teachers had been working tirelessly for the benefit of the children.
Opt-outs run high
The number of opt-outs was expected to grow this year. Mautone did not have numbers available for Saugerties
In Onetora, 61 percent of third through eighth graders opted out of the English Language Arts 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. Kingston says it will release the figures at the end of the testing period, after next week’s math tests.
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 says 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.
According to 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 Gov. 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.”
Additional reporting by Lisa Childers