Do widespread opt-outs signal the death knell of Common Core?

common-core-bellLast week, huge numbers of students opted out of state-mandated Common Core English tests. Local numbers include 61 percent in Onteora, 62 percent in New Paltz and 43 percent in Kingston. Saugerties has not released its opt-out totals.

Statewide numbers were similar. The mass opt-outs have sent a shockwave through New York’s traditionally top-down and authoritarian public school system. As state officials have said that 95 percent of students must take the test for the results to be valid, what will happen in the face of most school districts, according to media reports, falling far short of that number, remains to be seen. Testing played a major role in the testy negotiations to wrap up state school aid and to retool the state’s teacher evaluation system; Gov. Andrew Cuomo was pushing to have the results of the tests rise from a quarter to a half of a teacher’s grade, but a compromise, which punted the matter to the State Education Department to draw up new rules, seemed likely to peg the weight tests are given to a third of a teacher’s grade.

Math tests, which comprise the second half of testing, were scheduled for April 22-24.




Saugerties won’t release numbers

In response to inquiries, Superintendent Seth Turner asked that this newspaper, “respect my decision to not provide this data. Let the information about these children remain in the triad of the parent-student-and teacher.”

In an email, he stated that the district is asking parents who wish to refuse the test to speak with their child’s teacher or principal. “This is because in our district the leadership believes wholeheartedly in letting the needs of individual students be met by those professionals who work directly with the child.  In Saugerties we teach children… not common core… not state tests…  We have a proud past, and a strong future, and I will not contribute to nebulous data sets regardless of their purpose(s).  Just as the supporters of the opt-out movement will appreciate, please score Saugerties Central School District with a ‘999.’”

Asked why the number of opt-outs should not be released when detailed information about the results of the tests, broken down by grade-level and ethnicity, are published each year by the State Education Department, Turner replied, “No further comments on this matter — we are moving on.”

Saugerties Times has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the information.


Onteora and Kingston

Among the leaders in the region in test-refusal numbers was the Onteora Central School District, where nearly two-thirds, 61 percent, of students were opted out by their parents, 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. Onteora students who didn’t take the tests were sat down in a quiet room and allowed to read silently.

A Facebook page, “Onteora Refuse the Tests,” spread information to parents, including newspaper articles on how parents in other districts are opting out. Countywide (Stop Common Core in Ulster County) and statewide (United to Counter the Core) Facebook pages played similar roles; all seemed to serve to coalesce resistance and encourage refusing the tests.

“Make no mistake, this wave of civil disobedience is not just about Andrew Cuomo and his teacher evaluation plan,” posted United to Counter the Core co-founder Loy Gross on April 17. “Cuomo is the flavor-of-the-month in a long line of ill-prepared, ill-advised education reformers, each worse than the one before. … Hundreds of thousands of parents are not making political statements, they are looking at crying, defeated children around their kitchen tables and demanding meaningful change.”

Some 43 percent of Kingston City School District students were opted out of this week’s English Language Arts Common Core tests, district officials announced last Thursday.

According to the district, there were 2,813 students eligible to take the test, and 1,212 did not, for a participation rate of 57 percent.

“There’s nothing in [the new state budget] that reduces testing on students,” Kingston City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino said earlier this month in predicting an increase on refusals. “There’s nothing in this that addresses the opt-out wave that we’re experiencing, that we will continue to experience, and maybe even see it intensify… Seeing that the testing issue was not really addressed, if we’re going to judge a school building by the test scores, and they’ve done nothing to address the opt-out situation, you can have a school where the students are achieving and meeting the standards but are refusing to take the tests. You have no way to demonstrate that to the state and you become a focus school or a priority school.”

According to the Kingston district’s website, “Students whose parents or guardians provide them with a written note to opt out of testing will engage in quiet reading time or other academic tasks under the supervision of school staff.”



What happened in Ulster last week happened across the state. 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 said 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.

Over in Dutchess, some districts also reported significant refusal rates. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, the Wappingers Central School District, Dutchess’ largest, was running at about a 40 percent opt-out rate. Arlington, stated the Journal, reported a rate ranging from 25 to 40 percent. In Red Hook, the PoJo stated 20 percent of elementary and 33 percent of middle school students were opted out.

According to United to Counter the Core’s most recent tally, compiled from media accounts across the state, more than 177,000 students were opted out of the ELA testing. The total number is likely higher, as that tally was from 63 percent of the state’s school districts.