This story was reported by Michael R. Ebert, Scott Eidler, Víctor Manuel Ramos and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Tyrrell.
More than 67,000 Long Island public school students in grades three through eight refused to take the state English Language Arts exam on Tuesday in a fifth straight year of boycotts driven by opposition to the Common Core tests, according to a Newsday survey of districts.
On the first full-fledged day of testing in Nassau and Suffolk counties, 67,789 students in the 92 districts that responded opted out — 50.7 percent of those eligible in those systems to take the exam. There are 124 districts on the Island.
It marked the third consecutive year of big numbers of test refusals across the region, where the opt-out movement got its start after the state in 2013 rolled out curriculum and tests tied to the Common Core academic standards.
The Comsewogue district in Port Jefferson Station — at 87 percent — had the Island’s highest percentage of students boycotting the test of those who participated in Newsday’s survey, a repeat of what occurred last year. The numbers were stark: Of 1,681 students eligible for the ELA, 1,483 refused to take it.
“Our parents have made a decision. Once again this year, they are speaking very clearly,” Superintendent Joseph Rella said. “They will not be ignored.”
State Education Department officials, asked to respond to the boycott numbers on Long Island, did not give a specific answer.
A department statement noted that Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has crisscrossed New York, traveling more than 50,000 miles to listen to the concerns of parents and teachers.
“It’s up to parents to decide if their children should take the tests, and we want them to have all the facts so they can make an informed decision,” the statement said, outlining the changes made in the tests since the groundswell of opposition from parents, students and educators. That information is available on the Education Department’s website.
The English test is given during portions of three consecutive days, and testing in most districts on the Island and elsewhere in the state started Tuesday. In eight districts — five in Suffolk and three in Nassau — students in some grades took computerized versions of the exams; the administration of that electronic version started for some students on Monday and some on Tuesday.
In the Nassau districts that responded Tuesday to Newsday’s survey, 44.2 percent of eligible students opted out, while responses from Suffolk districts showed 56.3 percent refusing to take the test.
The number of test refusals tracked similarly to the first day of the English exam last year. At that time, 74 of the Island’s districts responded to Newsday’s survey, with 57,969 students in grades three through eight, or 50.1 percent of those eligible, refusing to take the exam.
In Seaford, Superintendent Brian Conboy said 68.8 percent of eligible students opted out of the ELA test on Tuesday, a figure that was close to last year’s 67.8 percent.
“I don’t know where this is all going,” Conboy said. “It’s an absolute necessity for the state to restore trust in these assessments.”
It has been more than a year since the state Board of Regents moved to ease anxieties over testing by declaring 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.
After the revolt against the tests in 2015 and before the exams being given last year, the state agency responded by trimming the number of exam questions and eliminating the time limit for students. Before this year’s test season, New York State educators were involved in creating and reviewing the exams.
Proponents of testing, such as High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups, said that tests tied to the Common Core standards are a solid measure to evaluate progress toward students’ college and career readiness.
This week, the group ramped up its statewide “Yes to the Test” campaign, launching a series of ads that emphasize the importance of the assessments. The group said Tuesday that lower opt-out numbers were being reported in other parts of the state.
“These assessments provide an annual checkup for students, identify achievement gaps so they can be closed, and have gotten better through listening to the concerns of parents and educators,” said Steve Sigmund, executive director of the nonprofit group.
Jennifer Chernis, a special education teacher in East Moriches and a parent of three children, including two who fall within the grades being tested, said she supports the exams.
“As an educator, I feel having standardized testing is important,” she said. “It provides a common measure to determine the instructional needs in our schools and across New York State. When students opt out of the test, it creates a smaller sample of data, which could have a negative impact on our students across the state.”
Long Island has been the epicenter of the test boycott movement in New York.
The first student refusals came in spring 2013, the year the Common Core-based curriculum was introduced, with a few hundred students, mainly in the Rockville Centre district. The year after that, nearly 9,500 students opted out, according to a Newsday survey on the final day of ELA testing in April 2014.
In spring 2015, with the activism of parents and teachers, the number of students opting out mushroomed to the largest such boycott in the nation. An estimated 200,000 students statewide, more than 70,000 of them on Long Island, refused to take the English and math tests — one-fifth of those eligible to do so.
After that big boycott, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for a sweeping review of the state’s academic standards and exams.
But last April, by the end of three days of testing, the number of students in grades three through eight in the two-county region who skipped the English assessment reached 89,036, or 51.6 percent of the total eligible, in 108 districts that responded to a Newsday survey at that time.
Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother of two and chief founder of the Long Island Opt Out organization, said Tuesday that “the state has a choice.”
“They can either keep putting out the same flawed test and parents can keep saying, ‘Nope, my child will not participate,’ ” she said. “Or the state can decide that they want people to participate and they will make meaningful changes . . . not tweaks.”
Test refusals are also expected May 1-8, when state math tests for grades three through eight are scheduled.
Top 5 opt-out districts for Nassau and Suffolk
- Bellmore-Merrick, 71.4%
- Levittown, 70.7%
- Bellmore, 69.6%
- Seaford, 68.8%
- North Bellmore, 65.6%
- Comsewogue, 87%
- Rocky Point, 79.9%
- Shoreham-Wading River, 76.2%
- Patchogue-Medford, 76.1%
- Bayport-Blue Point, 75.5%