AS STATE TESTS APPROACH, OPTING OUT IS THE ONLY OPTION FOR MANY LOCAL PARENTS
Updated April 12, 2015 (original post, April 11) -- “What are the repercussions for teachers if most of their students opt out?” “Who creates the tests?” “How are test results used?” “Can my child get academic intervention services if he refuses the exam?” These were only a few of the nearly two dozen questions that were discussed at a gathering of more than 20 moms and dads at a Sea Cliff home the day following passage of Governor Cuomo’s education agenda earlier this month.
Organized by a small group of parents, some who had been conflicted last year about how to best tackle the testing culture that has overtaken public education in New York State but now committed converts to the “opt out” cause, the meeting offered parents who are on the fence over whether refusing the exam would be in the best interests of their children, the opportunity to discuss their concerns.
“I wanted to reach out to parents whose children are new to the school system and/or parents who haven't kept up with the massive changes in education since the roll out of Common Core,” said one of the organizers of the meeting, Heather Snyder of Sea Cliff. “I wanted them to know that while there is a rapidly growing national movement against the "one size fits all" corporate takeover of education, on a local level, the only power we have to save our children's education right now is to unite and opt our children out of state testing.”
Beatrice Martineau, another organizer of the meeting, said she believes "it is vital for parents to be informed on what’s happening politically and how damaging the effects will be for our educational system for years to come."
"One of the best ways for parents to express their disagreement with this misguided direction," she said, "is to refuse to have their children take the standardized tests. . . . The more parents who opt out their kids, the more likely our voices will be heard and the greater our ability to take back our educational system for the sake of our children. "
The first round of tests, the English Language Arts Common Core Assessment, will be administered to students in grades 3-8 this coming Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The math assessments will be administered over the course of three days later in the month.
127 of the more than 1250 North Shore students scheduled to sit for the ELA exam last year refused the test. This year that number could easily be twice as high, if not greater, as parents react to the state legislature’s recent passage of many parts of Governor Cuomo’s education agenda, which further reduces local districts’ control over teacher evaluations and that is likely to increase reliance on testing. The final decisions regarding what percentages of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on state standardized tests and what will be based on an outside “independent” evaluator’s classroom observation have been handed off to the State Education Department which has, in the past, embraced expanding the importance of assessments and tying teacher evaluations to their results. Mr. Cuomo has proposed basing half of a teacher's evaluation on student test results.
"Having 50% of teacher evaluations based on the results of several days of standardized testing is absurd and can only lead to 'teaching to the test' which not only robs teachers of the ability to be creative and engaging in the classroom," said Ms. Martineau, "but also robs our children of an enjoyable learning experience where they can learn to think outside of the box."
With state officials’ rejection of similar appeals made by parents and educators at public forums and in letter writing campaigns over the past two years to reduce the impact of testing on public education, “opting out,” once seen by many as too radical or a last resort, has become the mainstream position of the anti-testing movement, and it is clear that, at least on Long Island and Westchester County, what many have called “the epicenter of resistance” to Mr. Cuomo’s and now the state legislature’s education agenda, the percentage of parents choosing that course is likely to skyrocket this year.
At last week’s parent meeting, some explained why they were opting their children out, while others, unsure, asked questions about the tests themselves and the consequences of refusing the tests.
Sea Cliff parent Linda LaMarca is one of many whose children took the exams last year, but this year has decided to refuse the tests. “For years I have tried to express that I don’t like how tests are being used by writing letters to my legislators,” she explained. “But after this past week, the decision was handed over to an appointed board. My voice was taken away – I no longer have a say.”
Others made similar arguments, while still others expressed concerns about the corporatization of public education. “This is corporate corruption at the highest levels,” said one parent, who argued that the emphasis on testing was an effort to transfer enormous amounts of taxpayers’ dollars into the coffers of test making and test prep materials giant Pearson as well as to charter schools, many run by private corporations.
One parent, was concerned that by opting out, her child would not be eligible for Academic Intervention Services (AIS). Ms. Snyder replied that Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick had stated at a School Board meeting, that that would not happen – that the district would provide AIS to any student whom the district deemed needed it, regardless of their scores on the assessments or if they hadn’t taken the exams.
Another parent worried about the impact on teachers – that large numbers of opt outs would make it more likely that teacher would receive an ineffective rating. The response – large numbers of opt outs would further invalidate the overall results of the tests making it impossible to base the teacher’s evaluation on them – the very purpose behind opting out.
Based on the discussion, the meeting’s organizers assembled a list of frequently asked questions and answers that can be found to the right of this article.
As the meeting came to a close, it appeared that those who had been undecided, were now leaning towards refusing the exams.
Parents wishing to have their children refuse the exam or “opt out” should notify the child’s principal by e-mail prior to the exam (go to image above for link to sample letter.) School officials have said that if a child refuses the exam without prior notification from the parent or guardian, they will try to contact the parent for confirmation.
AT A CROSSROAD FOR QUALITY EDUCATION IN NY AND NS, IT'S TIME TO SHUT DOWN THE TESTING MACHINE (March 31)
NORTH SHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT LEGISLATIVE ACTION COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES 2015 EDUCATION ADVOCACY CAMPAIGN (March 18, 2015)
DECLARING PUBLIC EDUCATION THE "CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE OF OUR TIME," RAVITCH URGES NON-COOPERATION (March 10, 2015)
For more information concerning opting out, see below.