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Test supporters: LI’s opt-out rates make it an ‘outlier’ in NY

Students at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach

Students at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach who boycotted the state English Language Arts test on Thursday, April 12, 2018, spent the time in other classrooms reading books of their choice. The school is in the Middle Country school district. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

While tens of thousands of students on Long Island boycotted state English Language Arts exams this week, test supporters pointed to other parts of New York as evidence of more acceptance of the assessments given in grades three through eight.

The advocacy group High Achievement New York, which represents a coalition of business organizations and others, reported Friday that test opt-out rates generally appeared to be declining statewide, at least slightly, outside of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“More parents and students are saying ‘Yes to the Test’ — a major win for families and schools across the state,” said Brian Fritsch, deputy executive director of the HANY coalition.

Fritsch acknowledged that the results were preliminary and that his report was based on newspaper accounts of testing in Buffalo and 31 other school districts, all in the mid-Hudson region encompassing Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Ulster counties.

More than 700 districts operate statewide.

Meanwhile, test-refusal rates on the Island remained more-or-less steady from last year — results that Fritsch termed an “outlier.”

A total of 86,646 students — 50.4 percent of those eligible — boycotted the ELA over the past week in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to a Newsday survey that drew responses from 107 of the Island’s 124 districts.

At this time last year, the refusal rate on the Island peaked at 52.2 percent after four straight years of growth.

Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, agreed that the region is something of an exception in terms of anti-test protests.

Ten districts in Suffolk alone recorded opt-out rates greater than 70 percent on the ELA, while rates reported in districts elsewhere in New York rarely exceeded 40 percent.

Lewis said results on the Island have been significant in convincing Albany policymakers that they needed to make changes. This year, the days devoted to test sessions were reduced from three to two, both for the ELA and the state math test that will be given in early May.

“I think that Long Island may just be the canary in the coal mine,” said Lewis, who serves as president-elect of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “Parents here are raising some real issues, and the state has been responsive.”

One parent leader in Westchester County, Lisa Rudley, criticized High Achievement New York for its upbeat account of test trends, saying the report overlooked what she described as an increase in numbers of students spending longer hours completing the exams.

School administrators on the Island also recounted instances of students who returned to testing after lunch — beyond the normal assessment period — to complete their work.

“HANY should be more worried about the children than about keeping score,” said Rudley, who lives in the Ossining district and is a founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, an umbrella group of parents, teachers and others opposed to the state’s current system.

In Albany, meanwhile, state education officials said Friday that they continued to review their contract with Questar Assessment Inc., a Minnesota-based firm that serves as a test vendor for New York. The announcement followed a technical glitch Wednesday that interrupted testing for some students in the 263 districts statewide — including on the Island — that administered the ELA via computer in some grades.

In a joint statement, Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia referred to the temporary electronic breakdown as an “unacceptable failure” — stronger language than education officials used earlier in the week.

The latest announcement went on to say that Questar had been directed to maintain contact with the state Education Department’s staff over the weekend, to provide updates on the status of its computer-based testing system, as the state moves toward its next week of testing.

The agency had directed that both the computer-based exam and the traditional paper-and-pencil test be given over two consecutive days within state-designated time frames. Administration of the electronic exam began Tuesday and will continue to be given through this Tuesday. The paper-based test was given Wednesday through Friday.

“While more than 135,000 [electronic] testing sessions were completed through yesterday, the difficulties schools have faced in administering the computer-based assessments are inexcusable,” the chancellor and the commissioner stated.

With Michael R. Ebert

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