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Math test opt-outs high on Long Island for fifth year

Nearly 48 percent of students boycotted the exam in 95 districts responding to a Newsday survey. It is the fifth straight year of big opt-outs in Nassau and Suffolk counties on the state math and English tests.

A fifth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle

A fifth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island took the traditional paper-and-pencil math test in May 2017. This year, the Longwood district was among a few systems on Long Island that administered computer-based tests to all students in grades three through eight for both the state math test and the English Language Arts test last month. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

This story was reported by staff writers Michael R. Ebert, Zachary R. Dowdy, Bart Jones and Joie Tyrrell and written by Tyrrell.

Nearly 68,000 elementary and middle school students in 95 districts across Long Island refused to take the state math test this week — 47.9 percent of students eligible in those systems to sit for the exam, according to responses this week to a Newsday survey sent to all 124 districts.

Friday was the end of the spring test season for most Long Island students in grades three through eight. It also marked the fifth straight year of large boycotts, with nearly half of the students opting out of exams both in math and in English Language Arts in the districts responding to the newspaper's surveys.The English test is given first, usually in April.

The exams, mandated by federal law and formerly known as Common Core tests, sparked a revolt by parents and educators that started on Long Island and spread statewide. Those opposed to the assessments say they do not accurately measure student achievement and are not developmentally appropriate, and that the tests and preparation for them take up far too much class time.

Over the years, the controversy became so heated that the state Board of Regents tossed the Common Core name and adopted a new set of academic benchmarks dubbed the Next Generation Learning Standards. Test days were shortened, and the exams now are untimed. In addition, questions were created, selected and reviewed by educators in New York.

“Parents can’t make it any more clear. We absolutely will not participate in a broken testing system that undermines the education of our children," Jeanette Deutermann, the founder and lead organizer of the LI Opt Out movement, said Friday. "Tweaks and minor corrections aren’t enough. Parents want a complete overhaul and new leadership at the Department of Education who will finally hear us and put our children first."

The state Education Department, asked for response, sent a statement from spokeswoman Emily DeSantis that has been issued throughout the test season, noting that Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the Regents "have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers and made significant changes to the exams" over the past four years. The statement mentions changes in the exams, shortened test sessions and educators' involvement in exam questions.

Statewide, the test-refusal average last year was 18 percent, according to the department.

A breakdown of the responses compiled Friday showed 55.2 percent of eligible students opted out in 51 Suffolk districts and 39.8 percent in 44 Nassau districts. Overall, there are 68 districts in Suffolk and 56 in Nassau.

The figures primarily stemmed from administration of traditional paper-based tests, still given by most systems, with a small number of districts giving computer-based exams, or CBTs.

The test-refusal rate has been consistently strong in the Rockville Centre school district, where the opt-out movement first took hold in spring 2013. Friday, officials there reported that 665 students eligible to take the math exam, or 46.5 percent, boycotted it.

Superintendent William Johnson said the test refusals are "not going away until there is a significant change in how we test children." 

The Rockville Centre district uses assessments by the Oregon-based nonprofit NWEA, which are administered three times a year — September, January and June — in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Those exams are digital and take students about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, and the results are used by classroom teachers to direct instruction. Johnson said not one pupil has opted out, and suggested that the state should adopt a similar assessment.

"It is almost foolish not to consider it as a real option," he said.

In Roosevelt, the situation was different: Most students took the exam, with only 11 percent boycotting it. The Nassau County district has consistently had a low refusal rate.

"Our parents value the data generated from the … assessments, and our opt-out rate has been historically low," Superintendent Marnie Hazelton said.

Last year, at least 67,553 students on the Island refused to take the math exam in 94 districts that responded to Newsday's survey — 46.9 percent of pupils eligible in those systems.

As always, the math test comes a few weeks after administration of the ELA exam. More than 75,000 of the Island's students in grades three through eight opted out of that test last month, about 47.2 percent of eligible students in 103 systems answering the newspaper's questions on participation.

The number of students who sit for the math test is significantly lower than for the ELA because districts can waive the math exam for seventh- and eighth-graders taking accelerated math. Those students — nearly 14,000 in the districts that responded to Newsday's survey — take the Regents Geometry or Regents Algebra exam given later.

Administration of the digital math tests appeared to have gone smoothly, without the technical problems that caused temporary statewide suspension of the ELA test. Under the state-designated time frame for the computer-based tests, districts may have chosen to give it on Monday and Tuesday. 

Friday, DeSantis said the math testing "has gone very well. Approximately 73,000 students have successfully completed their math assessments via computer."

Each year, more than 1.1 million students across New York in grades three through eight are eligible to take the math and ELA exams. About 200,000 of those are in the Island's schools.

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