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Survey: Math opt-outs on LI top 46 percent

A fifth-grader opting out of the state math

A fifth-grader opting out of the state math test reads a book in May 2017 at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

This story was reported by Keshia Clukey, Michael R. Ebert, Bart Jones, Víctor Manuel Ramos and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Clukey.

Boycotts of the state math test by students in grades three through eight across Long Island topped 46 percent this week, according to a Newsday survey, as the opt-out movement maintained a strong regional presence for a sixth consecutive year.

Despite efforts by the state Education Department to win over parents by tweaking the exams and moving to two-day testing, at least 67,553 students on the Island — 46.9 percent of those eligible — refused to take the math exam in the 94 public school districts that responded to the survey.

Several districts responded but did not return complete information; their figures were not included.

The participation on the math exam was consistent with what occurred in April on the English Language Arts test, when at least 91,974 students in grades three through eight opted out, according to a Newsday survey at the time that drew responses from 115 districts. That translated to 49.1 percent of the 187,419 eligible students in the responding districts.

The number of students who take 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 take the Regents Algebra I or Regents Geometry exam, both offered in June.

In the 94 districts for which Newsday had complete data, 12,248 students were identified as set to take the Regents exams.

“Our slogan is ‘Nothing has changed.’ Nothing is changing,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a Bellmore parent of two and founder of the Long Island Opt Out network.

Those opposed to the tests say they do not accurately measure student achievement and are not developmentally appropriate, and that the tests and preparation for them take up too much class time.

The group didn’t yet have its own data Thursday on the number of test refusals because feedback came in a bit slower for math than ELA, she said.

“A lot of this comes down to fatigue. There’s only so much outrage,” Deutermann said. “At this time of year, everyone feels a little deflated with what the kids have gone through, the teachers have gone through.”

As with the ELA, the majority of students took the traditional paper-based exams, which districts gave over two consecutive days within the state-designated time frame of Tuesday through Thursday.

The computer-based math test was being given in 470 schools statewide — including 37 on Long Island — in grades chosen by local districts. Participating schools also must give the electronic version of the test over two consecutive days during the testing period, which started Tuesday and runs through May 8.

As of Thursday, more than 102,000 computer-based test sessions had been given statewide, said Emily DeSantis, an Education Department spokeswoman.

More than 100,000 students statewide took the computer-based ELA exam this spring, including those at 46 participating Long Island schools.

As with the ELA exams last month, the electronic math tests did not come without glitches for participating schools.

The Education Department on Tuesday received a “handful of reports of isolated instances where students had difficulty logging into versions of translated tests on computer” statewide, DeSantis said in an emailed statement.

Some districts chose to instead have those students take the paper-based exams in languages including Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian and Spanish, she said.

Questar Assessment Inc., the state’s vendor for tests, came under fire in April after students taking the electronic ELA reportedly had trouble logging in and connecting to the network.

Questar “is working to resolve the issues,” DeSantis said.

Lisa Mato, director of special programs and data reporting for Longwood schools, said “there was an incompatibility with Chromebooks” for students taking the math exam in their home language.

Mato said the state notified the district of the glitch ahead of time and they were able to switch those students, predominantly native Spanish-speakers, to standard computers.

Longwood schools had 491 students in grades three through five, at certain schools, take the computer-based exam, and about 566 refused to take the electronic test, Mato said.

The district has had a high rate of students opting out, she said. According to preliminary numbers, 1,532 students refused to take the paper-based test, slightly higher than the 1,518 that took it, she said.

In Nassau County, at least 27,492, or 39.1 percent of eligible third- through eighth-graders in the responding districts, refused to take the exam, according to the Newsday survey. In Suffolk County, at least 40,061, or 54.4 percent of eligible students in those districts, opted out.

Last spring, the survey that ultimately pulled responses from 112 districts showed at least 90,217 students — 53.6 percent of those eligible in the responding systems — refused to take the math test.

This year, “in general, things have been really quiet, which I think is good news,” said Brian Fritsch, deputy executive director for the advocacy group High Achievement New York.

The group, which represents a coalition of business organizations and others, has heard test participation increased statewide, outside of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“I think people are definitely responding to the change of moving from three-day to two-day testing,” Fritsch said. “I think that’s really resonated, that the state continues to make smart changes and is listening to parents around the state in terms of needed changes to state tests.”

In the Hempstead district, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said she was excited to have an “extremely low” number of students who opted out. The district had 2,870 students take the test and 156 refuse, she said.

“This means the district will have more accurate data to determine those critical standards we need to focus on to guarantee better educational outcomes for students,” Armstrong said.

Hempstead had one of the lowest refusal rates on Long Island among the districts that responded, with about 4.8 percent of students opting out.

Meanwhile, the Patchogue-Medford system had one of the highest refusal rates reported — at 76.5 percent, with 2,494 students boycotting the exam.

Superintendent Michael J. Hynes said parents in his district are pretty informed on the test issues and opted their students out for a “multitude of reasons,” including having objections to their children sitting so long for an exam.

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