68° Good Morning
68° Good Morning
Long IslandEducation

Test refusals expected as state English exam begins Tuesday

Students throughout New York will kick off state

Students throughout New York will kick off state testing on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, beginning with the English Language Arts exam. Credit: Heather Walsh

The stage is set for the start of another showdown between those who favor state standardized tests and the movement of parents who are keeping their children from taking the exams.

The issue of whether to put students in grades three to eight through days of standardized testing -- starting with the English Language Arts exam, which begins Tuesday -- has pitted some determined parents and the teacher unions against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration, particularly as the results became a significant part of teacher evaluations.

"The numbers so far that we are getting in are really promising" for those opting out, said test-refusal organizer Jeanette Deutermann, whose sons, 8 and 11, are in the third and sixth grades in the North Bellmore schools.

She said parents like her were incensed that the budget negotiated by the governor and legislature sought to increase tests' role in gauging teachers' work.

"We want child-centered learning," Deutermann said, "and when you make testing the focus of the entire year for our youngest learners, there is no choice but for teachers to focus all of their energy" on test preparation.

Education Department officials were pushing forward, saying an objective measure is needed for all students.

They also said a district's failure to meet the federal requirement of 95 percent participation on standardized tests, if not corrected, could result in penalties including partial loss of federal Title I aid, used for academic remediation.

Dennis Tompkins, an agency spokesman, said the federal Department of Education "has made clear that when a district fails to ensure that students participate in required state assessments, the state education agency is expected to consider imposing sanctions on that district, including -- in the most egregious cases -- withholding programmatic funds," though such sanctions "must be decided on a case-by-case basis."

School officials reported receiving many opt-out requests from parents, said Roberta Gerold, Middle Country schools superintendent and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. She has 42 percent of children opting out in her district, exceeding a high number of test dissenters last year -- a backlash, she said, to the public budget debate.

"The politics have just gotten too involved with education," Gerold said. "My overall concern is that it's going to be very hard to recapture the parents' belief in the state Education Department's assessment program."

David Flatley, superintendent of the Carle Place schools, expects participation in his district to drop from about 93 percent last year to below 75 percent. He isn't against testing, but said he understands parents' concerns.

"The more data that we can put together about kids, the better able we are to tailor our programs to their needs," said Flatley, though he wouldn't put much emphasis "on any one test" as a diagnostic tool.

Not all districts expect a wave of refusals. Elmont, which had most students tested last year, expects about 30 of more than 2,200 children may sit the tests out, Superintendent Albert Harper said.

"We believe in rigor here in our district in Elmont," Harper said. "I truly believe that testing and assessment is part of a child's educational progress, and of adjusting instruction to meet those needs."

Deborah Brooks, a parent who is having her 10-year-old daughter opt out in Port Washington, said tests with complicated grading formulas and ones tied to teacher evaluations are not the best way to know whether a child is making progress.

"I realized I had no idea what she did on these tests and what concepts were tested, so it was meaningless to me and to her teacher" to get results after the child has moved on to another grade, said Brooks, an attorney. "I know how my child is doing because I monitor her homework and I monitor her classwork" every day.

With John Hildebrand

Latest Long Island News