Opt out movement sees low numbers in Queens

By Tom Momberg

City schools administered state Common Core standardized math tests this week to children enrolled in grades three through eight, just as the numbers of students whose families decided to “opt out” of the previous week’s English Language Arts tests were coming in.

Queens had some of the lowest ELA opt out rates in the city, despite strong support from leaders like City Council Education Committee Chairman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

Out of almost 3,200 students who brought letters from their guardians into city schools last week claiming they would be “opting out” of standardized tests, only about 100 were in Queens, according to preliminary numbers gathered by education activist organization Change the Stakes. Those are only minimum counts based on the information the organization gathered from administrators and education councils.

Over half of the children who opted out of ELA testing in Queens this year were from District 26, which includes Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Fresh Meadows, Douglaston, Little Neck among other communities. It is the highest-performing district in the city.

Statewide this year, more parents have taken their children out of standardized testing procedures in public schools than ever before. A growing movement backed by some parents and educators believes that the pressure of high stakes testing has detrimental effects on their children. Just under185,000 students in the state brought in refusal letters for ELA testing, with about 74 percent of school districts reporting as of Tuesday, according to United to Counter, the group tabulating statewide numbers.

That number is up from about 49,000 students who opted out of ELA tests in 2014 and 67,000 students that opted out of math tests last year.

Dromm attributes this year’s increase to Gov. Cuomo’s new teacher evaluation system based partially on the standardized tests.

“These tests are wrongly being used in a way in which it was never intended — to evaluate everything from teacher evaluations to school grades and merit pay bonus schemes,” Dromm said during a news conference last week. “Parents should be able to opt their child out if they so want to, especially when the validity of the test itself is in doubt.”

In the past, most of those who have refused to take Common Core standard testing were in higher-performing school districts, according to data collected by United to Counter, or U2C.

But as numbers continue to come in, U2C Co-Founder Loy Gross said the geographical locations where districts are seeing high numbers of refusals are spreading out.

“Parents in troubled schools are finally getting the message this year,” she said. “The anti-Common-Core movement is (slowly) infiltrating the schools that need help the most.”

All schools are required by the New York State Department of Education in cooperation with the federal No Child Left Behind Act to have a 95 percent participation rate in state testing in grades three through eight. There is no provision under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment of the act allowing parents to “opt” their children out of testing.

Still, organizations furthering the opt out movement advocate that refusing the test does not affect the student, teacher or school district. And according to NYSED’s Student Information Repository System Manual, without using the language “opt out,” parents can submit refusal forms and be counted as “not tested.”

Schools will not be labeled as failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress and cannot lose state funding due to a high number of refusals, according to the NYSED Office of Accountability.

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