Parent leaders of the test-boycott movement are forging ahead with plans for more opt-outs on Long Island and statewide, despite the state’s adoption this month of a four-year moratorium aimed at revising the Common Core curriculum and easing test anxieties.
“It’s a mess — parents ought to be screaming from the roof,” said Lisa Rudley, a Westchester County mother of three who heads a statewide coalition of parents, teachers and others known as New York State Allies for Public Education.
Opponents of Common Core testing predict the number of students in grades three through eight refusing to take state English and math tests in April could swell to 400,000 — 40 percent of those eligible to take the exams and double the number of refusals in spring 2015. That was the nation’s biggest boycott by far, with Nassau and Suffolk counties the epicenter of the movement in New York.
The revolt, which has galvanized growing numbers of parents on the Island and across the state over the past three years, was fueled by changes in the state’s teacher and principal evaluation system, which ties students’ scores on more rigorous Common Core tests to educators’ job ratings.
The Long Island Opt Out network and other groups aligned with Rudley’s organization have test-refusal forms for parents posted on their websites. Many administrators in local school districts report that hundreds of such forms already have landed on their desks, months ahead of the spring testing season.
Boycott organizers complain the new rules under the moratorium are complex and confusing. The Board of Regents, the state’s policymaking panel, adopted the “emergency regulation” earlier this month, based largely on recommendations of a task force appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Delayed until 2019-20
The new rules delay until the 2019-20 school year the use of state test scores to rate teachers in a way that might jeopardize their job status. Teachers will continue receiving such “growth” scores each year, though only on an advisory basis.
In the interim, a brand-new set of “transition” ratings will be used annually to identify teachers’ performance — from educators who are outstanding or satisfactory to those who are subpar. Those ratings will be based on classroom observations and results of student tests selected by local districts.
Some boycott leaders now call for pulling students out of local tests as well as those administered by the state.
New York State United Teachers, a union umbrella group, has taken a wait-and-see position on the moratorium, calling it a “first step” and making clear it wants further changes.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who served on the Common Core Task Force, told school superintendents in a recent memo that the moratorium, which Regents passed on an emergency basis, was meant to respond to local complaints that the combination of test scores and teacher evaluations was “causing undue stress.”
“This emergency regulation is intended to provide you with some relief,” Elia stated.
Opponents contend, however, that many districts within the next year could be using more tests — rather than fewer — to help measure teacher performance. Parents active in the opt-out movement have adopted this as one of their talking points, and some school administrators agree.
“It has the effect of exploding the number of tests, especially in the earlier grades,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents. “It is enormously expensive for districts.”
Elia strongly rejected that argument in an interview last week.
“There will be no additional testing — please get the word out,” the commissioner said.
Some analysts at the state and local levels think concerns about increased testing are exaggerated. They point out that school districts already administer a multitude of locally chosen tests — both standardized commercial assessments and those written by their own teachers.
Such exams, if approved by the state, could be used to assess teachers as well as students, analysts said. They added that the great majority of districts will not have to worry much about this issue until 2016-17, because the state has granted them exemptions from adopting new evaluation plans for this school year.
“This gives us the remainder of this year to deal with concerns,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
Supporters of the state’s current efforts noted that the demands of opponents go far beyond regulatory changes in teacher evaluations. A recent statement by the NYS Allies group called, among other things, for an outright “halt” to the state’s use of Common Core guidelines.
“We will continue to refuse to allow our children to participate in the system until ALL harmful reforms are removed from our classrooms,” Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out, said in a statement.
“What the testing opponents are doing is shifting the goalposts, because their real purpose is to end Common Core standards,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York. The Manhattan-based advocacy group includes representatives of business and civil rights organizations, as well as some educators.
“Nothing will end their demands,” Sigmund added. “They refuse to take yes for an answer.”
Rudley acknowledged that those who have fought the education reforms may take a breather.
“This is going to take some time to unwind, and there’s no reason for parents and students to get their toes back in the water yet,” she said. Rudley, a former investment specialist, also has volunteered as an advocate for children with autism.
NY hiring different firm
Meanwhile, the state Education Department is making efforts to win greater teacher support for its new tests. The department in July announced that it was hiring a different company, Questar Assessment Inc., to develop tests for grades three through eight, replacing the much-criticized Pearson Education.
State education officials said local teachers and administrators will be given a much bigger role, working with Questar to write new test questions. Those officials acknowledged, however, that questions developed by Pearson must be used in tests administered in April and in the spring of 2017, because of the time needed to review new questions for validity and accuracy.
Elia, who took office as education commissioner July 1, has traveled to the Island, New York City and points across the state to talk to educators and parents, logging almost 20,000 miles so far, agency spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.
The commissioner is confident the state’s plan “is the best path to lowering the volume on the debate and moving together toward an appropriate assessment and evaluation system,” Tompkins said in a statement. “And it does so by using mechanisms already in place in our schools. . . . Without assessments to measure their progress, we’d never know if we were heading in the right direction to achieve that goal.”
Cuomo shifts support
Still, the drumbeat of public opposition may be a causal factor for more change.
Cuomo, for example, already has shifted his long-held support of the Common Core standards.
“The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready — but it actually caused confusion and anxiety,” the governor said when his appointed 15-member task force released its report Dec. 10. “That ends now.”
Cuomo aides have contended there’s no reason to rescind a law that the governor pushed through the State Legislature last April that requires districts to base up to half of employees’ evaluations on state test results. However, the moratorium imposed by the Regents’ emergency regulation has the effect of postponing that section of law for four years.
The governor had said he planned to look at the task force’s recommendations in setting his legislative agenda for 2016. He is scheduled to give his State of the State address and release his proposed budget on Jan. 13 in Albany.