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Huge rise in number opting children out of state tests

New York Teacher
Parents and students have been staging demonstrations across the state to protest the overemphasis on high-stakes testing.

Parents and students have been staging demonstrations across the state to protest the overemphasis on high-stakes testing.

They’re just not going to take it anymore.

In New York City and across the state and country, a growing number of parents are “opting out” of having their children take state tests to protest the overemphasis on these tests and the high stakes attached to them.

Parents of more than 30,000 children in New York State opted out of the recent English language arts tests, up sixfold from the 5,000 who opted out last year, according to news reports.

In other states as well, the number refusing state tests has grown exponentially this year, though none so far has reached the level in New York.

The spike in resistance to state tests in New York reflects at least in part frustration over the state’s botched introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards, said Diana Zavala, a Manhattan parent and founding member of Change the Stakes, a group that advocates against high-stakes testing.

New York gave its first state tests aligned with the Common Core in spring 2013, ahead of most other states. The tests came before all schools and teachers even had a Common Core curriculum to teach. And student scores plunged, with only a third statewide passing the exams last year.

Zavala said parents are also concerned that it is unfair to evaluate teachers based on student results on the exams.

“What we want are authentic assessments that allow teachers autonomy, inform instruction and demonstrate ability over a range of subjects,” Zavala said. “The current tests only test whether a student is a good test-taker. They don’t predict success.”

If New York is the center of the national opt-out movement, Long Island is the epicenter. Parents of a reported 20,000 students on Long Island refused the English language arts exam last month.

In New York City, the numbers are smaller but much higher than in the past. Parents of at least 1,000 students in the city boycotted the English language arts exam and a similar number were expected to boycott the state math test.

Several city schools had a particularly large number of students opting out. At six schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan, parents of nearly 640 students opted out of the English language arts exam. That compares to just 276 citywide who opted out last year and 113 two years ago, according to the New York Daily News.

Queens parent Dudley Stewart said he opted his 3rd-grade son out of the English language arts exam and plans to do the same with the state math exam because the tests put too much unnecessary pressure on children.

“The tests are too long,” Stewart said. “There’s too much preparation focusing solely on passing the tests, and I feel it’s to the detriment of other activities that they can and should be doing.”

Many teachers feel the same way. The UFT has strongly protested the overemphasis on high-stakes testing, including through a series of resolutions passed by the union’s Delegate Assembly and testimony by union leaders to the state Legislature and the New York City Council. The state responded this spring by banning standardized exams for children in prekindergarten through grade 2 and by placing a moratorium on using state tests to make decisions about students, such as whether to promote them to the next grade.

UFT officials have also said they empathize with parents concerned about the growing focus on testing and support Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s policy of respecting the wishes of parents who opt out. Fariña warned parents, however, that opting out could affect test-based admissions to middle and high school programs. The union has cautioned teachers in the schools to leave the decision to parents and not advise them to opt out.

Around the country, similar concerns about testing are fueling a growing movement, said Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest, a national organization concerned about high-stakes testing.

“Parents have opted out in about half the states,” including in politically conservative states such as Georgia, Neill said.

Another conservative southern state, Texas, made a tremendous shift this year on testing. After embracing an increase in standardized testing under Gov. George W. Bush, the Texas state Legislature in 2013 voted overwhelmingly to reduce the number of standardized tests required for high school graduation from 15 to five. A poll found that 60 percent of Texas residents approved of the change.

Nationally, with 40 more states scheduled to introduce Common Core-aligned exams next school year, Neill said he expects the opt-out movement to grow.

“There is basically now a disbelief that testing is helpful,” Neill said.

“We should be rolling back the quantity of tests and ending the high-stakes use of tests so that they become an occasional dipstick” instead of the central focus of schooling that they are now, he said.

Related Topics: Testing, Labor issues