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Long IslandEducation

Opt-outs on state English test top 94,000 on Long Island

On March 30, 2017, three days into the English Language Arts exam, William H. Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre Union Free School District, said that 60 percent of students opted out of taking the exam, while only between three to four of every 10 students took the exam. Johnson called this period a state of "transition" for the schools, and said although the state has deemed the data derived from these tests unusable it continues to mandate that the tests be issued.   (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

This story was reported by Michael R. Ebert, Scott Eidler, Víctor Manuel Ramos and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Tyrrell.

Long Island maintained its position as a stronghold of Common Core test boycotts this week, as more than half of public school students in grades three through eight eligible to take the exams refused to do so, according to a Newsday survey to which 113 districts responded.

On Thursday, the final day of three days of full-fledged testing in the 124 systems across Nassau and Suffolk counties, 94,659 students opted out — 52.2 percent of those eligible. That figure included students in four districts that reported figures only on Tuesday, the first day of the test’s administration.

“It turned out that this year’s opt-out numbers were pretty much identical to those from last year, which was a bit of a surprise, because there was a real huge push on the part of the state to get information out there that they were making modifications to make it a better, more meaningful exam,” said William Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre district, where 62.4 percent of eligible students boycotted the test. “And yet our parents did not buy into that.”

In April 2016, by the end of three days of ELA testing, the number of Long Island students in grades three through eight who skipped the tests reached 89,036, or 51.6 percent of the total eligible, in 108 districts that responded to a Newsday survey at that time.

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the State Education Department, did not address specific numbers Thursday, but said in a statement that Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and agency staffers “are continually seeking input from parents, teachers, administrators — all stakeholders — on how we can make the tests better and move students toward success. At the end of the day, it’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their children.”

The state agency does not immediately release test-refusal data, so the level of ELA boycotts in other areas of the state was derived primarily from news reports.

School officials in Albany told Newsday that the refusal rate there was 16.1 percent, down from last year’s 16.6 percent, and Syracuse reported that 3 percent of eligible students opted out.

In the Buffalo area, the West Seneca Central district — among largest in the western part of the state — continued see high opt-outs, with nearly three-quarters of its students refusing to take the ELA, according to news reports.

Closer to the Island, 43 percent of students boycotted the exams in Westchester County’s Lakeland district, compared with last year’s 42 percent, school officials told Newsday.

Otherwise, Westchester districts such as Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville, Edgemont, Garrison, Pocantico Hills, Rye City and Tarrytown saw slight increases or remained at about the test-refusal level of 2016, according to news reports. But others in the Hudson Valley, such as Putnam Valley, saw a decrease, the reports said.

Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother of two and chief founder of the Long Island Opt Out organization, said the refusals won’t ebb until the state makes meaningful changes to the tests.

The Education Department already has trimmed the number of exam questions and eliminated a time limit for students. New York State educators were involved in creating and reviewing this year’s exams.

More than a year ago, the Board of Regents declared a moratorium, until the 2019-20 school year, on using test scores in any way that might reflect poorly on students’ academic records or as a component in teachers’ job evaluations.

“More changes are needed if the State Education Department wants to win back the trust and confidence of parents and educators — it is that simple,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers.

This week’s exams marked the third consecutive year of big numbers of test refusals across Long Island and the fifth year since the boycott began, with smaller numbers, in Rockville Centre.

The Comsewogue district in Port Jefferson Station led the ELA boycott on Long Island with 87 percent of eligible students opting out.

Parent Elizabeth Rossi, of Floral Park, pulled her children, in grades three and five, out of the exams.

Annual testing forces children into “neat little boxes,” she said, “by compartmentalizing and ranking and telling our children that if you aren’t successful in math or language, you aren’t a successful student.”

However, proponents said tests tied to the Common Core academic standards are a solid measure to evaluate progress toward students’ college and career readiness.

In Roosevelt, the refusal rate was 12.5 percent, and some school officials were glad it was low.

“It is important to show what they’re learning, where the deficiencies are and where we need to do better,” said Michele Van Eyken, assistant superintendent for elementary education. “The ELA is so important and it touches every subject.”

The English test was given over three consecutive days, with testing in most districts on Long Island and elsewhere in the state starting on Tuesday. In eight districts — five in Suffolk and three in Nassau — students in some grades took first-ever computerized versions of the exams; the administration of that electronic version started for some students on Monday and some on Tuesday.

The opt-out movement got its start after the state in 2013 rolled out curriculum and tests tied to the Common Core academic standards.

In spring 2015, with the activism of parents and teachers, the number of New York students in grades three through eight who refused to take the tests was the largest such boycott in the nation. An estimated 200,000 students statewide, more than 70,000 of them on the Island, refused to take both the English and math tests that year.

Last year’s refusals stayed at that level statewide, and increased on Long Island.

Significant numbers of students also are expected to opt out when math tests for grades three through eight are given the first week of May.

Top 5 opt-out districts for Nassau and Suffolk

Nassau:

  • Plainedge, 75.7%
  • Bellmore-Merrick, 72.9%
  • Levittown, 70.7%
  • Bellmore, 69.6%
  • Seaford, 68.8%

Suffolk:

  • Comsewogue, 87%
  • Rocky Point, 82.8%
  • Patchogue-Medford, 77.8%
  • Eastport-South Manor, 77.6%
  • Shoreham-Wading River, 76.8%

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