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3 reasons why 'opting out' spells disaster

The politics of education may make for great theater, but when politics threaten to harm the well-being of children it becomes a dangerous game. Calls from some for students to opt-out of this month's state assessments are irresponsible.

Parents need to know the facts about these state tests and the rhetoric coming from some so-called education leaders is not part of a constructive conversation. Opting out does nothing to improve our student's futures -- instead it ignores the opportunity for important feedback on student progress.

Every child on Long Island, and across New York State, should take these exams.

As leaders of High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups, we want to make sure parents understand what these tests tied to the Common Core standards are -- a measure to evaluate progress toward career and college readiness.

We should dispel certain myths right away. Testing is not taking over our classrooms and monopolizing our teachers' time.

Our coalition released an analysis this week that found students spend less than 1 percent of their time in school taking state tests -- that's just 480 minutes over the course of their 64,800-minute school year. Further, the state education department also limits "test prep" to no more than 2 percent of classroom time in a year.

So why shouldn't parents have their kids refuse to take the state assessments?

1. The tests are an annual "checkup."

Under the old system, hundreds of thousands of
Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Under the old system, hundreds of thousands of children -- from the suburbs to the cities -- slipped through the cracks and could drift along without intervention. That led to more than 60 percent leaving high school in New York without being college or career ready.

The assessments being administered this month are designed as an annual "checkup" to ensure all kids are making progress and providing teachers and schools more information when they're not to help get students who may be falling behind back on track.

2. The tests help high-need districts.

The assessments are the only common measure to
Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

The assessments are the only common measure to compare Plainview to Poughkeepsie or Brentwood to Brooklyn. A disproportionate number of opt-outs would skew the test results, and be a step backward when it comes to closing the achievement gap among minority students.

We need to make sure every child is advancing and to opt out is to do a disservice to high-need districts on Long Island and throughout the state.

3. What does this teach your kids?

Opting out could be disastrous for our school
Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Opting out could be disastrous for our school districts. The financial stakes are incredibly high. Schools with less than 95 percent participation risk losing federal funding, specifically Title I, Part A funds. State aid tied to teacher evaluation requirements is on the line, too.

But there is a much larger issue at stake. We should not be teaching our children that if they don't like tests, they can simply refuse them. Opting out is the wrong approach to address what parents don't like about testing.

If there are problems with the tests, then parents and communities should work together to fix them. Shielding our children from the tests sets a bad example and delays the process of making positive changes to improve what is, like so many things in our society, an imperfect system. The way to change the process is through positive ideas, not simply telling kids to refuse an academic responsibility.

When it comes time to find a job, there is no "opting out." There is only unemployment. Let's make sure we are sending the right messages to our children now, so they do not face that reality in the future.

Steve Sigmund is the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups. Jennifer Hensley is the executive director of the Association for a Better New York, a non-profit organization.


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