Opt-out advocates see steady rates from last year

By Patrick Donachie

The opt-out movement has generated headlines and protests in recent weeks as students across the city and state sat for their state standardized exams that were held on April 5-7 and April 12-13.. Official numbers will not be released for several months, but advocates said the pattern would likely remain steady from the year before.

“New York City is kind of a small picture of the rest of the state,” Loy Gross, co-founder of United to Counter the Core, said. “Overall, there are very few opt-outs in Queens.”

About 2 percent of New York City students boycotted the tests in 2015, in comparison to a statewide average of approximately 20 percent. Gross theorized that New York City rates were lower because parents were worried that if students did not take the exams, it would hurt their chances to be admitted to the middle or high school of their choice.

“In the city, we have parents who say that there are no consequences, that there are alternate ways to be used” to gain admittance into schools, she said. “But that information doesn’t seem to be spread very widely.”

Inquiries to Queens school districts were referred to a Department of Education spokeswoman who said that the department would not release any opt-out numbers until the state released test scores in August.

At a meeting earlier this month, after the first week of testing was complete, Superintendent Mabel Munez-Sarduy of District 28 said only 275 students out of 15,000 had opted-out of the 2016 English exams. District 28 includes parts of the neighborhoods of Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Jamaica. Anecdotal evidence from other areas in Queens supports the assertion that the opt-out rate was low in comparison to some other areas of the state.

Supporters of the state tests, including pro-Common Core advocacy organization High Achievement New York, said the steady rates of opt-outers indicated that the movement was unlikely to grow beyond the current percentages.

“The vast majority of New Yorkers have their children say yes to these necessary tests,” the leaders of the organization said in a statement. “Our goal is for the minority of suburban areas currently opting out to join them.”

The organization’s preliminary findings indicated that only Long Island saw a sizable boost in opt-outers. According to High Achievement, Long Island students opted out at a rate of more than 50 percent, with both the English Language Arts and math tests seeing an increase.

Gross said the numbers for this year would still easily exceed the threshold of 5 percent of students opting out. Federal legislation demands that 95 percent of students in a district must take state exams to ensure accountability for the district, and in theory, districts that do not reach that goal may be penalized by the withholding of federal funds, though this did not occur in New York last year.

Gross said he believed the steady numbers indicated a floor that the numbers were unlikely to fall below until parents’ issues were addressed and he reiterated that the challenge for opt-out supporters was to make the initial inroads with communities throughout the state.

“The hardest part is getting your foot in the door,” he said. “Once we start talking about what the options are, opt-out tends to spread like wildfire.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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