State Exam Opt-Out Numbers Vary In Westchester

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Students in grades three through eight must take state exams in English Language Arts and math.
Students in grades three through eight must take state exams in English Language Arts and math. Photo Credit: Flickr User Isaiah12:2

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The number of students opting out of the English Language Arts exams this week hit double digits in a few Westchester school districts, while most said only a few refused to take the tests.

The exams for grades three through eight state were made more rigorous last year to align with the Common Core Learning Standards, and only 30 percent of students scoring as proficient.

This year, some parents decided to opt out of the tests, including 84 in the Lakeland Central School District and 80 in the Ossining School District. The two account for the most in the county. 

"It's the largest number we've received at any time we've administered state assessments," Ossining Schools Superintendent Ray Sanchez said. "A lot gave advance notice, some did it the day of."

Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman said three opted out of exams across five buildings. One Bedford parent said her two kids at the middle school and two at Pound Ridge Elementary School all opted out and that she knew of at least four others who opted out Tuesday.

Mary Ann Donahoe Serlin said her child is refusing the test this year because he experienced too much anxiety last year at Central Elementary School in Mamaroneck. He now attends Pleasantville Middle School, where he is reading in the guidance office instead of taking the tests this week.

"Not going to put him through that if these tests having no bearing on his educational record," she said.

The ELA and math tests no longer count toward students' records thanks to the recently adopted state budget. The tests are, however, still used in evaluating teachers.

"I find it disappointing that so much of what they have decided to put in place is either common sense or not necessary to be in law, specifically the part about whether the scores should go on transcripts or count," Hochman said. "They keep moving the target on what proficiency means anyway."

Lakeland Schools Superintendent George Stone said his district has "never used (state exams) in the form of record keeping or grading or anything like that." 

Stone and Sanchez both said parents have the right to refuse the tests.

But, it puts their schools in danger of not meeting the federal requirement under No Child Left Behind to test 95 percent of its students, which would mean they wouldn't make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The goal of AYP is that all students become proficient in reading and math by 2014, as measured by performance on state tests.

"We don't know at this point what the state will do given the number of refusals across the state," Stone said.  

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Apologies, collyns, if you find my comments judgmental and incendiary simply because I state my opinions with conviction. Or perhaps it is simply because we disagree. I, in fact, have a number of children ranging in educational development from elementary school through college. I have first hand experience with a number of school districts, both in this country and abroad. My perspective is broad, and not without substance.

No one likes standardized testing. It is, perhaps a necessary evil. As far as "shoving advanced curriculum down our children's throats" (an incendiary comment if ever I heard one), I welcome raising the academic bar for our children. We are lagging behind foreign nations on almost every front. The average knowledge possessed by an American high school student is appalling (What is the capital of Idaho? Who is the current Vice President? Define the Pythagorean theorem, etc....)

If a few children are feeling a bit more anxiety from the testing due to the raising of the bar, that is unfortunate but no reason to excuse them from the testing process, which, at the moment, for better or worse, has a direct bearing on our school funding.

State testing exists to provide New York with much needed information regarding how much our children are learning. It has little to no direct effect on our children's individual academic success. Our kids are not pigeon holed into careers at 16, or even younger, as in many other countries. Colleges still look at an applicant's entire record, both academics and personal achievement. And of course that pesky little standardized test, the SAT. And last I heard, we were still teaching music, art, and physical education in our public schools. Or course that could all go by the wayside if enough parents "opt" their children out of testing and our state funding disappears.

I stand firmly behind my belief that we need to raise the educational bar for our children. We owe them this. And that includes creating a a core curriculum that produces well prepared, articulate, independent thinkers. No the core curriculum isn't perfect. It's in its infancy. It will need to be examined and revised, like anything else. But raising the bar is certainly a step in the right direction.

As far as reading lists go, I highly recommend you spend some time with Susan Jacoby. Either Freethinkers, or, better yet, The Age of American Unreason.

There may be a need to up the bar in our educational system, but it seems to me that there are so many more underlying issues to address. While all the kinks may be eventually worked out and this core curriculum may fly, no one wants to address the fact that the increase in special needs children is on the rise. No one wants to discuss the fact that inclusion disrupts precious class time. No one wants to discuss the fact that there are many districts who do not have a strong home support system with parents who have the means or time to spend making sure the student has completed their homework, understands the curriculum etc. No one wants to talk about how much time a teacher in a classroom is pulled out during the day for training meetings etc. And before any one gets into an uproar about my comment about special needs the fact is that although my children have grown and are no longer in the system I have a wide variety of acquaintances who are involved in school districts ranging in all areas. The schools have lost their control over the children, the teachers are subject to scrutiny if the children fail yet they have no rights in removing a disruptive child from their class for any length of time.
No one wants to discuss these kids are being pushed through grades even though they can't read. You want core curriculum how about not promoting kids who can not even read on a first grade level when they are in 6th grade. No one wants to talk about the cultural differences between us and the rest of the world. The curriculum will not get us ahead, the expectation of our children will and that comes from the home. We may have to start somewhere, but for those children who are already at risk of failing this will just dig the grave for them as far as education is concerned.
There is no right answer here, I do not have it for sure, it just seems to me there are so many issues, a major change in curriculum is not the direction we should be going in. Somewhere out there, there is a teacher who will not see their full potential because our schools are so regulated they will have no chance to bring a unique and positive method of teaching to their classrooms.

I have a 3rd grader who took the exams this week. I certainly saw an increase in her anxiety and stress level due to these exams. So far it has not reached the level that I think would be detrimental to her. If so, I would opt out of the exams. My question is What are they going to do with the results that would benefit my child? If she scores below standards are they going to offer her extra help or services? If she scores above standards are they going to change the curriculum to allow her to move ahead and continue to be challenged?
If they want to gather information about my child's school performance thats fine...but they should have an obligation to address the issues that these test scores will raise.

Are these kids going to opt out of the SAT, too, when the time comes? Of course not. It wouldn't be In their own interest. Those who "opt" out of state testing and risk the funding that benefits all out children are no better than the non-vaccinators - a selfish and transparently politically partisan decision that puts all our children at risk.

I've watched you post your judgmental and often incendiary comments showing you are one of those who would rather fight with others than look at a controversial subject from both sides. Just because someone chooses a path different from yours does not make them stupid, selfish or politically partisan.
If you really think that children are not showing increased signs of anxiety and stress brought on by shoving advanced curriculum down their throats and increasing testing then I would say you do not have young children in your house to see the proof. You cannot pigeon hole potential. Our children come in all shapes, sizes and intelligence aptitudes. Testing doesn't make them smarter nor does it indicate whether a teacher is good or bad - it's only a small part of the big picture.
If you want someone to listen to a valid point why don't you try not castigating them first and pointing out something they might not have thought of. Myself I would suggest you check out Ken Robinson's recent talks on TED regarding education. They are fantastic and focus on what can be done rather than who is to blame for it.