State test score drop could strengthen parents' opt-out efforts

Amy Connor recently refused the New York state

Amy Connor recently refused the New York state ELA and Math Assessment tests for her three children. (Aug. 8, 2013) (Credit: Chris Ware)

The dramatic drop in student scores on state English and math exams could strengthen the movement by parents to have their children opt out of taking the high-stakes tests.

Less than 1 percent of students statewide in grades 3 through 8 were counted as "not tested," the state Education Department said Thursday. Parents and education experts said they expect their movement to gain momentum after the scores plunged more than 40 percent on Long Island and statewide.

"Parents can see opting out as a legitimate option to use in our fight to take back control for our children," said Jeanette Deutermann, 40, a parent of two children in North Bellmore, whose Long Island Opt Out page on Facebook has nearly 9,000 members. "The test results help our cause by forcing districts to publicly acknowledge the flaws in the state's testing policy, instead of defending them."


DATA: English opt-out numbers | Math opt-out numbers
LI test scores - ENGLISH: Grade 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
LI test scores - MATH: Grade 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
MORE: BOCES proposes changes | Take a sample math test


More than 1.3 million students statewide, including 210,000 on the Island, were slated to take the tests in April. An exact figure of those who did not take the tests was not available Thursday.

Education Department officials, in releasing the scores Wednesday, pointed to new, more rigorous exams overhauled to meet national academic standards as the cause of the low scores. They had predicted a significant drop.

"Three years ago the Board of Regents adopted more rigorous standards and committed to reflect those standards in the state's exams," department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said. "The goal is to make certain that all students are on track to succeed in college and meaningful careers when they graduate high school.

"Parents who keep their children from taking these tests are essentially saying, 'I don't want to know where my child stands, in objective terms, on the path to college and career readiness' -- and we think that that's doing them a real disservice."

But Debra Goodman, professor of teaching, literacy and leadership at Hofstra University's School of Education, said that opting out of the exams is one way that parents can protest. She also noted that a number of school boards and school administrators have been highly critical of the state assessments.

"I think that some of the parents -- the entire educational community, in fact -- has been backed into a corner where the only response that is available is for parents to opt out of testing," Goodman said. "Parents are starting to think, 'What benefit does this have for my child?' "

On the Island, 37.5 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 passed the new math test, compared with 75.4 percent last year. In English, the percent of students across those grades passing the latest tests was 39.6 percent, down from 67.2 percent in 2012.

More than 300 students in the Rockville Centre district opted out of testing. Superintendent William Johnson said Thursday that the test scores don't have much meaning for his district, calling them "uninterpretable data."

"I will not be able to use them to place kids into any programs," he said. "We are going to have to rely on other information . . . or data to do that."

He added, "I would certainly think that parents will have second thoughts about the results since we are not going to be able to use them effectively to do anything in the school district."

Amy Connor, 52, of Northport, said her three children, who attend school in the Northport-East Northport school district, opted out of taking the state tests. Because the test results are so new, she said she hasn't heard of other parents deciding to opt out, but she hopes it will strengthen the movement.

"I'm hoping parents will see what's going on and what's happening, and more parents will step in and refuse," she said.

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