By Patrick Donachie
The city Department of Education should alert parents about their right to refuse to let their students take the high-stakes tests that have inspired the opt-out movement, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) last Sunday.
He issued the appeal at a news conference just days before New York State English Language Arts and math exams began. ELA exams started in the city Tuesday and math exams will begin Wednesday. The tests have generated controversy among parents, teachers and critics of the Common Core standards, who argue that the state relies on standardized testing results to the detriment of students’ education and well-being.
“The Department of Education has not done an adequate job of informing parents of their rights despite the City Council passing a resolution last year calling on the DOE to do just that,” Dromm said at the conference.
The City Council approved a resolution on March 31, 2015, requesting that the DOE amend the Parents’ Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to include information about how parents can opt their children out of testing. In a phone interview, Dromm, who was previously a public school teacher for 25 years, said the DOE had not done enough to make the resolution a reality and elaborated on why some parents resisted the tests.
“It’s been used to define the whole child, and they think that’s wrong,” he said, noting the state’s emphasis on testing had caused ramifications throughout the system. “It comes from the state, to the superintendent, to the principal, to the teacher.”
Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said the tests were changed since the previous year in response to parents’ concerns, with fewer questions, no time limits for students, and no impact on teacher evaluations. She also said the DOE had incorporated new tools to better judge students’ progress in a holistic manner.
“Results from these assessments give families, teachers, principals and the DOE important information to hold ourselves accountable to improve instruction and ensure students have the skills they need to succeed,” she said. “We will continue to listen to and work closely with families, educators and elected officials on this important issue.”
Loy Gross, the co-founder of United to Counter the Core, said that many of those reforms enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration were merely “lip service” and that real reform would have to happen in the state Legislature.
“In a nutshell, bureaucrats are driving education decisions,” she said. “We want to bring that control back to people who have degrees and experience in education.”
Gross said Tuesday it was too early to tell what percentage of students would opt out, but she felt certain that New York City would exceed last year’s opt-out rate of 2 percent. She said the high-stakes tests were hindering students’ progress.
“We know what the problems are,” she said. “And measuring those problems every year doesn’t do anything to solve them.”
In recent months, prominent education officials have offered mixed signals about their support for the state’s opt-out movement. State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia cautioned against trying to reform the test too quickly, but Betty Rosa, the newly elected chancellor of the Board of Regents, told reporters in March that if she were a parent, she would likely opt her child out of testing.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona