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Survey: Nearly 53 percent of LI students opt out of math tests

First day of New York State 2016 Common

First day of New York State 2016 Common Core math test, grade 4 at Ulysses Byas Elementary School in Roosevelt, April 13, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

More than 71,000 elementary and middle school students refused to take the state Common Core math test Wednesday in 80 of Long Island’s 124 school districts that responded to a Newsday survey — nearly 53 percent of those eligible for the exam in those systems.

Wednesday’s exam administration marked the first of three days of math testing for nearly 200,000 Long Island students in grades three to eight. Last week, more than half of eligible Long Island students in those grades boycotted the state English language arts exams, a Newsday survey that drew replies from 108 districts showed.

Alexandra Gordon’s seventh-grade daughter, in the Comsewogue district, was among those who opted out of the test.

Gordon, 43, of Port Jefferson Station, said she is not generally opposed to exams or higher standards, but wants “tests to be meaningful and for me to opt my children back in, we need to see more change. We need to see a full review of the exams by educators — real educators in classrooms, not just hand-picked people who are all for the Common Core and these tests.”

The mother was referring to teacher reviews of the exams that the state Education Department arranged before this month’s English and math tests were given — reviews spurred by continuing controversy over the exams and criticism from educators and parents alike.

On Wednesday, 29,617 of 63,721 students in Nassau County eligible to take the math exam, or 46.5 percent, opted out, according to figures from the districts that responded to Newsday’s survey. In Suffolk, that number was 41,535 of 70,824 eligible students, or 58.6 percent.

In Brentwood, 62.7 percent of students did not take the exam, a figure superintendent Levi McIntyre called a “little bit disappointing.”

“Testing is an important part of any child’s experience in school, and it provides us here with the measure to see what extent our kids are mastering the curriculum,” he said.

Last year, when Newsday surveyed districts on the final day of the math test, more than 66,000 students in 99 districts on the Island — some 46.5 percent — refused to take the exam.

This is the fourth consecutive year of test refusals linked to state-driven education reforms, and the opt-outs in 2015 were the nation’s largest such boycott. Then, an estimated 200,000 students statewide in grades three through eight — with about 35 percent of those on the Island — refused to take the English and math tests.

Since then, the state also has lessened the number of test questions and established a four-year moratorium that means scores cannot be used punitively against students or teachers, whose performance evaluations are by law linked to the results. In addition, the exams now are untimed.

The Education Department does not release figures on test refusals during the exams’ administration. After last spring’s tests, the agency released participation percentages, by district, in August.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the department and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, said Wednesday, “We continue our efforts to inform the public about the improvements we’ve made to the tests and the important role they can play in improving instruction.”

On the math exam’s first day, Newsday’s survey showed the Comsewogue district leading the Island, with 86 percent refusals.

“We have a lot of parents who don’t trust what is happening in the State Education and this is their way of vocalizing it,” said Michael J. Hynes, superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford district, where 76 percent of students opted out Wednesday.

Superintendent James Opiekun, of the Floral Park-Bellerose schools, said he didn’t see much change from last year in the percentage of students opting out of the tests. A total of 28 percent did not take the exam in that system Wednesday.

“We had two goals. One was to make sure we didn’t make any students refusing the test to feel awkward about it, and the second goal was to preserve the integrity of the testing environment,” he said.

On the math test, there is a difference in the number of students in grades three through eight who are eligible to take the exam, as compared with the English test. Seventh- and eighth-graders in accelerated math classes can choose to waive the eighth-grade math test if they are taking the Regents algebra or Regents geometry exam later in the school year.

Forty-seven of the 80 districts that responded to Newsday’s survey gave the number of students waiving the exam, for a total of 7,447 students.

High Achievement New York, a Manhattan-based advocacy group of civil rights and business organizations, had launched a statewide “Yes to the Test” campaign, with radio ads and robocalls. They said statewide test refusals were flat.

But Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out, said High Achievement New York is only interested in selling Common Core and high-stakes testing.

“We cut into their bottom line,” she said. “My job is to protect my kids and make sure what we are doing is moving the needle that is going to make the changes to help my kids in the classroom.”

Education Department officials have said that a district’s failure to meet the federal requirement of 95 percent participation on standardized tests could result in penalties, including partial loss of federal Title I aid, used for academic remediation. To date, the department has not imposed any fiscal sanctions.

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