Students at Southside Middle School preparing to start their Common...

Students at Southside Middle School preparing to start their Common Core mathematics testing in Rockville Centre on April 24, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The number of students achieving proficiency on this year’s Common Core tests in English Language Arts and mathematics rose on Long Island and statewide compared with 2016, the state Education Department announced Tuesday.

More than 45 percent of students in grades three through eight in Nassau and Suffolk counties reached proficiency or better on both exams, while about 40 percent of students statewide did so, the agency said. More than 900,000 students across the state took exams out of about 1.1 million who were eligible.

Meanwhile, the percentage of students statewide who opted out of the controversial tests in the spring stood at about 19 percent, a 2 percentage-point drop from last year, the department said. Test refusals on Long Island — known as the epicenter of the opt-out movement — ran much higher than the state average, with the majority of districts having boycott rates of more than 40 percent.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia expressed optimism about statewide trends on both fronts while calling for greater improvement.

“Real progress takes time,” the commissioner said in a teleconference. “So the test scores we’re announcing today are a positive sign that we continue to steadily head in the right direction.”

Elia speculated that the number of students opting out might continue to decline next spring when the state cuts the time devoted to the tests by one-third, a move made in part to answer educators’ and parents’ complaints. Students will take the exams over portions of four days — two for the ELA and two for math — rather than six.

“It’s encouraging to see that test refusals are starting to decline,” she said.

The department’s data showed:

  • On the ELA, 46.2 percent of Long Island students scored at levels indicating proficiency, up 1.4 percentage points from the year previous. The statewide success rate was 39.8 percent, a 1.9 percentage-point rise from the year before.
  • On the math test, 48.6 percent of the Island’s students reached proficiency, up one-half of 1 percentage point from 2016. The statewide rate was 40.2 percent, up 1.1 percentage point.
  • The statewide test-refusal rate was down from 21 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2015. The state provided no comparable regional figures; Newsday’s own survey last spring found an average 53.6 percent of students on the Island boycotting math tests and 51.2 percent refusing to take the English exam.

The figures released Tuesday were the first official picture of the spring’s test outcomes that the Education Department has provided.

Test refusals have put New York in the national spotlight for five consecutive years, with the Island a consistent hot spot. Boycotts upstate have been less pronounced.

New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group, and many school leaders on the Island warned against making any sweeping conclusions based upon one year’s changes in data. One reason for caution was the continuing boycotts that have excluded tens of thousands of students from the state’s official scoring rolls.

“We can’t really use these figures to inform instruction or to draw wholesale conclusions on school programs, because over 50 percent of our students did not take tests,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools.

Lewis, who co-chairs a curriculum committee for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, added that she is hopeful parents and students will regain confidence in state assessments.

In response to the boycotts, state education officials have conducted a major overhaul of academic standards, which could win final approval by the Board of Regents as soon as next month.

The revised version has been renamed the Next Generation Learning Standards, dropping the long-controversial Common Core label associated with the national academic standards promulgated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009-10.

State officials also plan to encourage greater student participation in next spring’s round of tests, in accordance with federal education law that has long required at least 95 percent of eligible students to be assessed each year.

Under regulations drafted by the state, districts and schools with a pattern of low test participation would be required to develop improvement plans. Districts with schools that do not improve would have to eventually contract with regional BOCES to update their improvement plans, and state education officials could intervene as well.

The Regents board is scheduled to vote on the draft regulations next month. If the rules are approved, they would be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for final review.

Parents involved in the test-boycott movement have consistently said that a principal motive is to safeguard children against emotional harm caused by overtesting. Boycott leaders dismissed the extra paperwork that districts potentially face from Albany as ineffective.

“As much as that is a waste of resources, it’s a very small price to pay to protect our children,” said Jeanette Deutermann, chief organizer of the Long Island Opt Out network.

The North Bellmore mother of two was not impressed by the state commissioner’s report of a drop statewide in opt-outs.

“Honestly, if that makes her feel better to say that it’s dropped, I’m willing to allow her to feel good about that,” Deutermann said. “However, the way those of us in the movement feel about it is that we’ve maintained around 20 percent for three consecutive years. It remains a significant number.”

A series of public polls, published since 2015, has found Americans sharply divided over the issue of test boycotts, with a plurality leaning against such efforts.

One recent survey by two researchers at Columbia University Teachers College identified 48.1 percent of respondents as either strongly or somewhat opposed to parents “opting their children out of tests.” Another 30.6 percent were strongly or somewhat supportive, while 21.3 percent neither opposed nor supported such efforts.

The report by researchers Oren Pizmony-Levy and Benjamin Cosman, issued in July, was titled “How Americans View the Opt Out Movement.”

Howard Frauenberger, a retired former Grumman engineer living in Malverne, recently wrote to Newsday’s letters section, explaining his reasons for opposing opt-outs.

“At the same time when we’re offering all these Advanced Placement classes, we’re quick to worry that we’re overtesting these kids,” Frauenberger said in an interview later. “Without some kind of common testing, you have no means of comparison. I guess my general objection to the opt-out movement is we’re in the process of watering-down to some degree.”

With Michael R. Ebert

Test numbers

Students in grades 3-8 taking tests statewide in 2017: 900,000-plus

Students on Long Island taking tests in 2017: 95,777 on English Language Arts (ELA) and 88,773 on math

Students proficient in grades 3-8, statewide:


39.8 percent (2017)

37.9 percent (2016)


40.2 percent (2017)

39.1 percent (2016)

Students proficient in grades 3-8, Long Island:


46.2 percent (2017)

44.8 percent (2016)


48.6 percent (2017)

48.1 percent (2016)

Source: State Education Department

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