Sixty-one percent. Forty-three percent. Fifty-three percent. Last week, numbers flew all over social media, reporting the percentage of public school third- though eighth-graders whose parents opted them out of state-mandated standardized tests designed to evaluate how well the new — and highly controversial — Common Core curriculum was being taught to students.
Last week, some 1.1 million elementary and middle-school students were assigned English Language Arts tests; this week, students are taking math tests. While refusal numbers for math testing will likely not be available until after press time, last week’s hefty opt-outs for the ELA tests 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 was reached, which punted the matter to the State Education Department to draw up new rules.
The second two days of standardized State tests in English Language Arts (ELA) at Onteora proved consistent with the first day, with the numbers of students opting out of the tests nudging slightly upward, leading to an overall refusal rate for the three days of 64 percent.
Students opting out had to show up to participate and were required to fill in a bubble on the test that provides a refusal option. They were then required to sit and read quietly in a room provided.
Woodstock Primary School grade three had the most percentage of students opt out; 73 percent on the first day, and 72 percent refused the following two days. Bennett Intermediate School, grades four-through-six had the largest number of students opt-out; 212 out of 319, or 66 percent on April 14. On April 15-16 it jumped two percentage points to 68 percent.
The Onteora Teachers Association announced that it will hold a rally at 4 p.m. Friday, April 24, across Route 28 from Onteora High/Middle School to protest to “stop the outrageous over-testing of our kids!”
Kingston and New Paltz
According to school officials, Kingston has 2,813 students in grades 3-8 eligible to take the standardized tests; 1,212 had refused the tests heading into last week’s three-day round of English-Language-Arts (ELA) testing. On Wednesday of this week, the district began to administer the math side of the tests. The growing numbers of students opting out within the district have mirrored an uptick in refusals in other local districts and across the state.
In New Paltz, at least 597 students at Lenape Elementary School and New Paltz Middle School refused to take the tests, district officials said.
New Paltz had a 62 percent refusal rate at the middle school, plus a 53 percent refusal rate at Lenape, according to Superintendent Maria Rice.
“For our family, it’s a civil rights issue,” said Kathy Preston of New Paltz, who added that her daughter likes school and tests well, but this was the second straight year they opted out. “The fact that special education students and students with [Individual Education Plans] are not given any accommodations in term of the testing is abominable. I can’t live with that. It’s tantamount to bringing her to a whites-only lunch counter. Just because it’s OK for us doesn’t mean it’s OK all the way around.”
Preston said she was “very excited” by the big wave of opt-outs. “I think it sends a really clear message to the State Education Department about how flawed these tests are and about how much we want to support our educators and how much we want to support our children. … These tests have absolutely nothing to do with an appropriate education.”
New Paltz parent and anti-testing advocate Bianca Tanis said her objections stem from the tests being, she believes, “not developmentally appropriate.”
“They are not used to help the instruction of my child,” she said. “We’re really upset with the way testing drives the pace of instruction,” she added, noting the week before the tests was totally taken up by prepping for the tests.
Tanis attended public school in New York and said there’s a big difference between the education she got and the education her kids are getting. “When I was in school we had lots of science, lots of social studies and field trips. Lots of hands-on learning. Now it’s basically all about ELA and math. Science really happens in the grades after the tests. We have fewer field trips. We had tests … but I don’t think we ever had test prep when I was a kid. Not at nine or ten years old.”
Tanis, pointing out that she and other parents have been resisting testing for three years now, said she wanted to counter the perception that the opt-outs are a union vs. Cuomo phenomenon.
“It’s being turned into a political movement and it’s really unfortunate because at the end of the day, it’s for parents. It’s absolutely not about politics. It’s about the well-being of their children. Anybody who wants to paint this as a labor dispute just really doesn’t understand what we’re doing.”