Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Friday, April 24, 2015, at the...

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Friday, April 24, 2015, at the Association for a Better New York breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

For a while it sounded as if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office had opted out of offering a public response to the biggest test boycott yet.

But on Friday, after speaking to a cordial Manhattan audience of civic and business leaders, Cuomo said when asked about the tens of thousands who opted out of state standardized exams in previous days: "That's their option.

"What I don't think has been adequately communicated is, we passed a law that stops the use of the grades on the tests for the student. So the grades are meaningless to the student."

For Wheatley School Principal Sean Feeney, a critic of New York's recent approaches to student testing, Cuomo's response did nothing to answer the question of the moment: "How is he going to put this genie back in the bottle?"

"He has undermined the use of annual testing in New York State because of this insistence on tying high-stakes testing to non-research-based teacher evaluations," Feeney said, and so forced longer tests and angered parents and students. "No one was opting out in the past."

Anything that even smacks of a popular revolt signals a crisis for an elected executive. That's true here even as Cuomo reminds us that the state Education Department, which he does not directly control, sets rules and goals that percolate through New York's school systems.

In his State of the State message in January, Cuomo once again called for measures to correct failing public schools. His clashes with teachers' unions over performance measures, and new legislation on the topic, generated the most noise. Other forces also seem to be helping drive the parents' boycott.

Through one lens, this conflict is about local districts and their staffers and residents chafing under dictates from far away. Also, some feel they are living under the tyranny of tests and data. There is also a bit of a partisan hue -- with some Republicans playing up the Common Core approach as an imposition from a Democratic-run federal government.

Those allied with Cuomo would like the public to believe that teacher unions are promoting this action to enable them to resist accountability. Some also will argue parents are reacting to the idea that schools for which they pay high taxes aren't doing as good a job as they were told. For now, we have Cuomo's comments from the meeting of the Association for a Better New York.

Going back a couple of years, he said, "the Department of Education hadn't done a good job in introducing the Common Core and they had rushed it. So we said for a period of five years that test scores won't count.

"So they can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand, if the child takes the test, it's practice, and the score doesn't count anyway."

Even if the score doesn't count for the student, the count of students opting out has grown into a big deal politically.

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