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Long Island

Math test opt-outs soar over 66,000 in Long Island schools

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School in Rockville Centre take the Common Core mathematics test on Friday, April 24, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

More than 66,000 students in Long Island elementary and middle schools refused to take the state math test this week -- 46.5 percent of those eligible for the exam -- a Newsday survey found.

In 99 of Long Island's 124 public school districts that responded, 66,921 of 143,968 children in grades three through eight eligible to take the test refused to do so, according to figures the districts reported.

"This was a colossal waste of time for our students," said Mark Nocero, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor school district, where more than 57 percent of the students did not take the math exam and 65 percent opted out of last week's English Language Arts test. "It was sad to walk through the buildings and watch this kind of a waste when there are so many more valuable things our kids could be doing."

The Comsewogue and Rocky Point districts posted a refusal rate on the math exam of more than 80 percent of eligible students. In some districts, such as East Islip, Bellmore-Merrick and Sayville, more than 70 percent opted out.

Six districts, including Manhasset and Hempstead, reported a rate of 6 percent or lower, according to the Newsday survey.

The segment of the math exam given Friday marked the end of six days of standardized testing statewide during the past two weeks, with the exams given during a portion of those school days. The number of students in Nassau and Suffolk counties opting out of the math and ELA tests was a huge increase over those who did so last spring.

Last May, a Newsday survey of all the Island's districts on the last day of math testing found that 10,765 children in 64 responding districts -- about 13 percent -- refused to take the exam, which reflects the controversial Common Core academic standards.

On last week's English test, more than 71,700 students on the Island -- 42.6 percent of those eligible -- refused the exam, according to figures from 110 districts that responded to Newsday's survey then.

There is a difference in the number of students eligible to take the math test as compared with those who took the ELA. Some eighth-graders do not take the math test, instead taking the ninth-grade Regents algebra exam in June. In Newsday's survey Friday, 57 districts responded to questions about those eighth-graders, indicating that more than 7,900 plan to take the algebra test.

Michael Berg, father of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader in the Huntington school district, said his children have never skipped the exams.

"This notion that it is too stressful for them is ridiculous," Berg said. "They need to get used to taking tests."

Testing opponents -- a combination of parents, teachers and some school administrators -- have said the high percentage of refusals will force change at the state level. Some also have asserted the opt-outs will invalidate the results as a measure of student performance and teacher effectiveness. Students' scores are among the data used to evaluate their teachers' job performance.

Activists said more than 190,000 students statewide boycotted the English test.

Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, a parent organizer of the opt-out movement on Long Island, said Friday that parents should notify school districts in the fall, at the start of the school year, about the intention to have their children refuse to take next spring's tests.

"We are hoping . . . if we are still in a situation where there is an expectation teachers will be evaluated on test scores, parents get those same refusal letters and get them in in September and ensure that that classroom will not be test-focused," she said.

State Education Department officials have defended the tests' validity and said the agency still will be able to get a representative sample of students who took the tests and calculate scores for use in teacher evaluations.

But Nocero said the opt-out numbers are too large to ignore.

"The state is going to have to really regroup and decide how they want to go forward," he said.

An Education Department spokesman sent a response that cited a speech made by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in March.

"We are not going to force kids to take tests. . . . But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know," she said.

Mark Secaur, an assistant superintendent in the Hewlett-Woodmere school district, said the district was "logistically ready" for the math test. More than half of all eligible students there refused to take it.

"We administered the test and respected the students who decided to take it and the students who decided not to," he said. "Where we had the space and the staffing, we were able to provide a separate location" for the students who opted out.

With Michael R. Ebert

and Joan Gralla


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