Third through eighth grade students finished Common Core English language arts exams this week. And with another year of testing comes another year of opt-outs.
The group United To Counter The Core has assembled a list of percentages of students not participating in the exams. Using numbers pulled from a variety of sources including news reports, administrator emails, and school boards, the group says that by the end of Thursday, with more than 44 percent of districts reporting, more than 149,600 students opted out of the ELA exams, or about 13.2 percent of eligible students.
According to state figures, last year 20 percent of students across New York did not participate in ELA and Math tests.
While data is still anecdotal, the drop in opt-outs is reflected at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District in Southern Saratoga and Schenectady Counties.
Last year, about 35 percent of students did not take the Common Core tests. This year, about 20 percent did not take this week’s ELA exams.
Superintendent Patrick McGrath said the drop could be thanks to reforms and changes at the state education department, including the actions of new state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
“I think that there’s just a sense that there’s a lot more responsiveness on the part of the state to listen to parents’ concerns, listen to teachers’ concerns,” said McGrath.
Reforms have included bringing in teachers to review test questions, providing past testing materials to teachers and students, and a survey to collect feedback and review state education standards in relation to the national Common Core standards.
In December, the New York State Board of Regents voted to put a 4-year hold on using test scores to evaluate teachers and administrators, following a recommendation from a Common Core task force appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
McGrath believes the hold until 2018-2019 was welcomed by parents.
“I think there were a lot of parents that were concerned that the tests might be used irresponsibly in the assessment of their child’s teachers,” said McGrath.
Capital Region Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a former special education teacher and guidance counselor, says the freeze does not completely satisfy.
“That doesn’t inspire faith in the parents in the future in what they’re going to be doing with these tests. And if they’re meaningless right now to kids, and they were meaningless before when you were going to use high-stakes tests, parents aren’t buying that.”
On April 1st, Tedisco wrote a letter to recently elected Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa asking for her support on two pieces of legislation. The Common Core Parental Refusal Act would codify the right of parents to opt their children out of tests. Another bill would limit the use of Common Core tests to a weight only 5 percent of teacher evaluations.
Tedisco is one of many upstate lawmakers who have praised the appointment of Rosa, based on her experience in education and her statement that if she were a parent with a child in school, she would have her kids opt-out.
“Now, you can’t get a bigger or more significant message than that, that it’s not in the right place right now, than the new Chancellor saying that if she was you who were out there right now ready to make a decision, she would not make her kids take these tests,” said Tedisco.
The governor said this week if his kids were school-age, he would have them take the tests.
Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, says the parent-led opt-out movement speaks to the frustration over what he calls the “misuse of standardized tests to label students, teachers and schools.”
“NYSUT’s position is that when parents make a decision in the best interests of their children, teachers are going to support that decision 100 percent of the time. And that includes whether a parent decides to opt-in or opt-out,” said Korn.
New York State Department of Education said in an prepared statement, “the Commissioner is going to continue to speak with parents, teachers, students and the public to explain the improvements we've made to the state assessments and the importance of these tests in helping educators to plan for the coming school year and to develop individualized learning plans for students."
Third through eighth grade students will take standardized Math tests next week.