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Sizeable test refusals on LI on first day of state ELA exam

Students at Centennial Avenue Elementary School in the

Students at Centennial Avenue Elementary School in the Roosevelt district began taking the paper-based state English Language Arts test on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. The test is given over two consecutive days. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The test-boycott movement on Long Island continued to post sizeable numbers Wednesday for the fourth consecutive year — though opt-out figures were down in some districts — as schools in the region and across New York began giving state English Language Arts exams in traditional paper-and-pencil style.

A sampling of districts in Nassau and Suffolk found most with test-refusal rates of 30 percent or more, a sign of ongoing resistance among many parents and teachers. More than half of those districts reported, however, that fewer students boycotted the test than last year.

State education officials this year shortened test days from three to two — action that they describe as responding to concerns of families and educators. With that change in place, the 700-plus districts statewide were directed to choose two consecutive days from Wednesday through Friday to give the paper-based ELA exam in grades three through eight.

In Malverne, Superintendent James Hunderfund said Wednesday’s opt-out rate was running about 60 percent locally — slightly higher than last year. Test opponents were well-organized, as in past years, the veteran schools chief added.

“They had a billboard truck that is running through the districts . . . big signs . . . bullhorns,” Hunderfund said of the test-resistance campaign. “It’s a wave, and it makes the test almost unusable in any practical sense.”

Lower opt-out rates were reported in a number of districts, including Island Trees, Lawrence, Oyster Bay-East Norwich and Mattituck-Cutchogue. Comparisons with last year’s results were inexact, because Wednesday marked only the first day of a two-day assessment period for most systems. Districts also could choose to administer the test on Thursday and Friday.

Of 20 districts surveyed by Newsday, a dozen reported a drop in test-refusal rates from last year, two reported higher rates and six said rates were about the same. The portion of students who boycotted the exam ranged from more than 65 percent in Bellmore-Merrick and Levittown to less than 25 percent in Lawrence and Herricks.

Charles Murphy, superintendent of Island Trees schools in Levittown, speculated that the state’s decision to reduce the number of days that the test is given may have had a positive influence on some parents in his district.

“I think this eases some of their concerns about time spent in testing, as opposed to time in the classroom,” Murphy said. “With that said, you can see there are still a sizeable number of kids opting out.”

One local parent, Laura Bisceglia, said that she and her husband had decided their son Patrick, a third-grader, would take the state’s standardized tests after concluding that the nine-year-old did not appear overly stressed by test preparation.

“It was never a situation where he came home and said, ‘I don’t like this, Mom, because we worked all day,’ because that wasn’t what they did,” she said. “I don’t want to say it was fun, because testing isn’t fun. But I think the atmosphere in his classroom was a positive one.”

Before the change, the paper-based state tests — both the ELA and the math test, which is given in early May — had been given over a three-day span since 2012.

Students in at least 84 of the 124 districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties took the paper-based test on Wednesday and will do so again Thursday, according to information from 99 systems that responded to a Newsday survey. Most of the remaining respondents indicated that students in some or all of the affected grades will take the test Thursday and Friday.

In Albany, state education officials who sponsor the tests said they were making every effort to make the process transparent — for example, by involving educators in the writing of test questions and by agreeing to release 75 percent of those questions after the test administration is completed.

“It’s up to parents to decide if their children should take the tests, and we want them to have all the facts so they can make an informed decision,” said Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department.

For districts that decided to use computer-based tests in some grades, Tuesday was the first day that students took the electronic version of the ELA. Local systems had the option to schedule the computer-based test on two consecutive days from Tuesday through April 17.

Wednesday’s administration of the electronic test was marred by a technological glitch that affected some schools — many of them in districts upstate. DeSantis said the Education Department reminded districts of flexibility built into the schedule that would allow completion of computer-based testing.

In the Carle Place school district, Superintendent David Flatley, who also is president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents said in advance of Wednesday’s tests, “I applaud the commissioner and the Board of Regents for listening to the concerns of parents and educators and doing their best in trying to move in the direction of more meaningful assessments.”

On the Island, known as the epicenter of the opt-out movement, test refusals — about 51 percent last year on the ELA — have run much higher than the state average. Many of the region’s educators continue to oppose the system, contending that test questions are too difficult for young children.

“The tests and curriculum are developmentally inappropriate,” said Bonnie Buckley, an East Islip parent who teaches in Jamaica, Queens, and is active in a hometown opt-out network.

With Michael R. Ebert and Kathy Diamond

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