A student uses a TI-84 Plus calculator to help solve...

A student uses a TI-84 Plus calculator to help solve math problems on May 1, 2013. Credit: Heather Walsh

Tens of thousands of Long Island elementary and middle school students refused to take the state math exam on the first day of testing Wednesday -- a repeat surge of the record boycott on last week's English Language Arts assessment and a huge increase over last year's opt-outs, a Newsday survey shows.

In 39 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, 32,704 of 67,612 students in grades three through eight who were eligible to take the test refused it. The newspaper sought figures Wednesday from more than 60 of the Island's 124 districts.

The math test continues Thursday and Friday. Other districts that Newsday asked for figures either would not release numbers or did not respond. Many districts will give figures only on the final day.

No state agency or official organization gathers data on the number of students not taking the state test during the actual days of the exam's administration.

Last year, 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 reflect the controversial Common Core academic standards.

There is a significant distinction in the number of students eligible to take the math test, compared with those who took the ELA last week. Eighth-graders can waive the math exam and instead take the ninth-grade Regents algebra exam in June.

Administrators in some districts surveyed Wednesday said many eighth-graders in their systems are not taking the math test because they plan to take the Regents exam. The state Board of Regents approved the waiver as a way to avoid "double-testing" of those eighth-graders, and it first was allowed last spring.

Hoping to force change

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.

State Education Department officials, however, have defended the test's 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.

David Morganstein, president of the American Statistical Association, the world's largest organization of statisticians, has told Newsday that if 20 percent or more of students skip a test, it may weaken the value of the results, but it does not invalidate them.

The first significant number of test refusals on the Island occurred in spring 2013. The so-called opt-out movement grew dramatically in last spring's testing season, driven by complaints about the content and frequency of tests tied to the Common Core, parents' concern about stress on their children and class time devoted to test preparation, and linkage of scores to principals' and teachers' job ratings.

Wednesday, the Rocky Point district posted the highest rate of refusal -- 79.5 percent -- among the districts that responded, and more than 70 percent of all eligible students opted out in the Connetquot, Patchogue-Medford, Plainedge and Shoreham-Wading River districts.

Elmont and Manhasset posted the lowest refusal rates among those surveyed, at 6 percent each.

Last year, the highest refusal rate on the math test among districts that responded to Newsday's survey then was 33 percent in Shoreham-Wading River.

Search for alternativesIn Rockville Centre, where 60 percent of eligible students opted out Wednesday, Superintendent Bill Johnson said the state should look for other ways to gauge student achievement.

"There are reasonable alternatives to the current testing program that should be on the table for discussion," Johnson said. "This is not an either, or. It's not, 'Should we be testing or not testing?' We should be testing, but with the right one."

No eighth-graders in the district took the math exam, because they will take the Regents algebra test, Johnson said.

Joanna Negro, mother of a sixth-grader in the Huntington school district, said she is well aware of the problems associated with the rollout of the Common Core curriculum and related tests. But that doesn't mean the data gleaned from the exams are irrelevant, she said.

"Ultimately, having measurable standards benefits kids," Negro said. "Standardized testing as the benchmark of achievement is the reality as kids go forward, and it is silly to deprive your child of an opportunity to practice a skill that will have so much influence on their future."

In the Valley Stream Central High School district, 387 of 1,161 students eligible to take the test opted out, school officials said.

"This is significant when compared to ELA -- where 385 students opted out when we had 1,411 eligible test-takers," Superintendent Bill Heidenreich said. About one-third of the district's eighth-graders instead will take the Regents algebra test, he said, so "we have 250 fewer test-takers and two more opt-outs . . . which significantly increases the percentage of students not taking the test."

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.

Anti-testing activists said last week that more than 155,000 students statewide refused to take the English exams.

Asked for response to Wednesday's test refusals, Education Department officials sent a lengthy statement from Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, from a speech she gave last month.

"I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing," Tisch said then to The New York State Council of School Superintendents.

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