Tens of thousands of parents expressed disapproval of New York’s reliance on standardized tests by having their children refuse to take the tests earlier this week.
Several districts in the New York City suburbs reported that at least 25% of students had refused to take the tests. In at least two, that number rose to 50%.
Mahopac Central School District’s interim superintendent, Brian Monahan, said 55% of his system’s middle school students and 45% of the elementary school students had refused the tests. At North Rockland Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y, 63% of middle school students refused the tests with the overall district refusal rate at 49%.
Half of Hillburn, N.Y.-based Ramapo Central’s middle school students skipped the tests.
On Long Island, nearly 65,000 elementary and middle school students have refused to take the tests this week, almost 44% of those eligible, according to a Newsday survey.
The state Education Department said official numbers for how many pupils took the statewide assessments won’t be released until this summer.
But a group called United to Counter the Core, which is critical of the tests, said Thursday that more than 155,000 children boycotted the English tests that were administered Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. More than 1.1 million students were supposed to take them.
Such a reaction to standardized testing is not unprecedented, but the size of the boycott is.
This year about 20 families in Texas’ largest school district, Houston Independent Schools, chose to have their children stay home instead of taking State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Unlike New York, Texas parents cannot say no to state standardized tests. Also unlike New York, Texas has opted out of White House-backed Common Core education standards, but many in that state remain angry about what some consider a nationalization of education standards.
In New York parents opposed to the tests say schools are focusing on test prep to the detriment of a richer curriculum. Some also are critical of the Common Core learning standards that New York’s tests have been based on since 2013.
Cindy Rubino, a Lakeland, N.Y., parent whose children refused the tests, said she was “thrilled” parents across New York had pulled their children from testing rooms.
“I do believe this is a historic day in New York state, as we try to regain local control over the education of our kids,” she said. “These refusals are meant to protest a system that is currently failing our children and educators.
“To do nothing is to allow public education to be destroyed before our very eyes,” Rubino said. “In the process we are teaching our children a valuable lesson — to stand up for what they believe in.”
Opting out is a disservice to students, said Jonathan Burman, spokesman for the New York Education Department.
“Test refusal is a mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. Those who call for opting out really want New York to opt out of information that can help parents and teachers understand how well their students are doing,” he said. “We can’t go back to ignoring the needs of our children.”
Lisa Rudley, a founding member of NYS Allies for Public Education that has organized rallies and sponsored advertisements throughout the state promoting the opt-out movement, cheered the numbers.
“The governor and legislature spoke on April 1 with their plan for our children’s education,” said Rudley, also a parent with children in Ossining Union Free School District in Ossining, N.Y. “Parents are responding in force, ‘We do not consent!’ If it’s not good enough for the best private schools in the country, it’s not good enough for our kids.”
Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats for Education Reform.
“Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs,” she said. “How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn’t clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data.
In Mahopac, parents kept their children home for the duration of the tests. Other students who showed up at school sat in the cafeteria or the gymnasium.
Monahan said it “took a lot of manpower” to oversee students not taking the tests. The middle school’s two cafeterias and gymnasium were filled.
New York’s Education Department repeatedly has said districts could face financial consequences if the participation on the tests is less than 95%.
“I think everyone is concerned about what all this means, and it’s still not clear,” Monahan said. “They have the authority to withhold funds, but we don’t know if they will.”
Burman said the state would take many factors into consideration when deciding sanctions.
“What sanctions to impose must be decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the degree and length of time the district has failed to meet participation rate requirements and the reasons for such failure,” he said.
Superintendent J. Thomas Morton of the Clarkstown Central School District in New City, N.Y., said state education officials should have anticipated the large number of students opting out.
“You could feel this coming, and the folks that are working in the field realize that this is a real issue,” he said. “I’m not so sure that the folks that are sitting in their offices in Albany understand that.”
Superintendent Diana Bowers of Haldane Central School District in Cold Spring, N.Y., said the parents had spoken.
“Parents want to have a say in their child’s education and this is one way they feel they can be heard,” she said.
SOURCE: The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News – Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
Contributing: Mareesa Nicosia, Claire Ferrara and Linda Lombroso, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News; The Associated Press