By Bill Parry
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) rallied with parents, students, teachers and education advocates Monday in Jackson Heights to demand that the city Department of Education inform parents of their right to opt their children out of state exams.
With the New York State English Language and Arts exams scheduled for this week and math exams next month, Dromm, a public school teacher for 25 years before his election to the City Council in 2009, is adamant that parents be informed of this right.
“Our children are more than just test scores. They are more than just a number on a sheet of paper,” Dromm said. “Test scores alone tell you little about a student and the school they attend. These exams were originally intended to assess academic development. They were never intended to be used to rank and evaluate schools and grade students. While minor changes have been made to the tests in response to parent outcry, unfortunately, these exams are still being used inappropriately. The DOE has still not done an adequate job of informing parents of their right to opt out despite demands from parents, educators and activists.”
He pointed out that in 2015, the City Council passed a resolution asking school officials to inform parents about the opt-out provision. “Why has the department made so little progress over the past three years?” Dromm asked.
Last year nearly 225,000 New York state public school students chose to opt out. Parents decided not to put their children through the pressure of testing because they disagree with policies that reduce education to a few test scores. In New York City the percentage of students opting out of state exams has always been lower with just 3 percent sitting out the math exam last year, according to the New York Times.
“Because 20 percent of the parents across the state refuse the tests for their children, we have seen some improvements,” Jackson Heights People for Public Schools organizer Amanda Vender said. “But in NYC, there is a lot of fear among parents. We know of many cases of immigrant parents being misinformed and even threatened by administrators if they want to opt out. We need to do our part and take a stand for the rich curriculum we know all children deserve, not test-prep.”
Other activists complained that school curricula has been narrowed to tested subjects at the expense of meaningful learning.
“Public education, which is a democratic institution and part of the common good, is sliding into the hands of privatizers and the corporations that make the tests,” NYC Opt Out Organizer Janine Sopp said. “Our tax dollars pay for our schools and they belong to us. Exercise your right to refuse the tests and do your part to boycott the corporate agenda. Do what you know is right for your child and for public education.”
“Students are more than a single test score, and state tests are one valuable tool for schools and educators to know how they’re doing and how they can improve instruction,” DOE Press Secretary Toya Holness said. “The state has made real changes to its exams over the past three years in response to legitimate concerns from the community. The DOE also continues to share detailed information on the state exams through its Parent and Schools Guides.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr