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OpinionEditorial

Opt-out movement is out of hand

While there are many empty desk in this

While there are many empty desk in this 6th grade class, some students at Southside Middle School did take the Common Core mathematics test in Rockville Center. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The next round of standardized tests for third- through eighth-graders begins April 4. The high-pressure lobbying to opt out has already started.

The pressure is mostly coming from the well-organized and -funded opt-out movement, and the tactics are exposing the lie that this is a parent-led push. It’s teachers unions and members fighting with all their might to destabilize standardized testing in New York in pursuit of their own goals.

And the argument is buttressed by new Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, who said she would not have her kids take the tests if she were not a Regent. Rosa won her spot with union support, and is now backing the union position.

The strategy

The question is whether the opt-out faction is going so far that parents will be repulsed rather than convinced.

West Babylon School District residents got an official-looking white mailer from the West Babylon Teachers Association last week. Emblazoned on the front were the deceptive words “IMPORTANT NOTICE,” which made it look like it came from the district.

Inside were two full-page versions of a “2015-2016 NYS Refusal Letter,” one in English, the other in Spanish, ready to fill out and sign. The forms allow parents to easily opt their kids out of both the state’s third- through eighth-grade math and English assessments and various other tests, and to support a list of objections to testing. They include:

  •  the tests are harmful, expensive and a waste of time and valuable resources,
  • the parents oppose any assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking or teacher effectiveness, and
  • the parents feel they have no other choice but to opt their kids out.

The West Babylon letter also demands that parents not be contacted by administrators trying to change their mind, or as the letters put it, “push forward the corporate takeover of public education.” That’s not grassroots parent activism. That’s professional educators pushing, and in some cases fooling, the residents who provide their salaries into doing their bidding.

And it’s just the beginning. For the second year a retired teacher from Schenectady, Deb Escobar, is raising money via the website Crowdrise to pay for robocalls to convince parents to opt their kids out. Last year, Escobar raised about $17,000 in 10 days for a similar statewide campaign. This year, her goal is $15,000, which would pay for as many as 375,000 calls.

Raising money to help schools is a very noble act, but putting the money toward convincing people to opt out of tests rather than toward supplies, programs or enrichment is off-putting. And Escobar’s case makes it sound as if what’s wrong with our education system is the standardized tests, performance evaluations and curricula, and that everything was wonderful until they came along. In fact, what’s wrong with the education system is that a huge percentage of our kids either don’t graduate high school or graduate not knowing enough to take a meaningful job or succeed in college.

To be sure, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also has provided schools with a “tool kit” to use to convince kids and parents to take the tests, but she had to do that. The tests are mandated by state and federal law.

Making gains

Last year, the opt-out movement exploded, fed by educators, teachers unions and social media. It led to 200,000 kids statewide and 70,000 on Long Island opting out. There are important lessons to be learned from that.

The state and many districts did a poor job rolling out Common Core standards and developing curricula. They failed to communicate changes to parents and educators. And they failed to appreciate how strongly teachers would resist having student performance tied to evaluations.

The state and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have backed off. In the face of an explosion of pushback, it seemed like they had little choice. They’ve let teachers and parents evaluate every individual learning standard, made changes to the length and structure of tests, and created a system to let teachers evaluate every test item. They’re replacing the current test producer. And they’ve adopted a four-year moratorium on using scores to rate teachers.

But instead of convincing the unions to work toward compromise, this appeasement has emboldened New York State United Teachers. Now the union seeks a law banning test scores from being used to judge teachers. And plenty of state legislators, afraid of being punished at the ballot box this fall, are supporting that stance.

The downside

Left on the battlefield are the real problems. Ineffective teachers are seldom fired. Substandard schools hardly ever improve. Poorly educated children rarely succeed. We have too many ineffective teachers, substandard schools and districts, and poorly educated children. Standardized tests are the only objective way to compare achievement across multiple classrooms, schools, districts and states.

Less than 40 percent of New York students are on track to be college and career ready by graduation. Can we really believe, as evaluations tell us, that only 1 percent of teachers were ineffective over the past few years?

 

Opting out won’t help fix any of that. Opting out will make it harder to rectify all of that. It may also costschools and districts millions of dollars in state and federal funding as soon as next year, according to Albany and Washington, which should infuriate any taxpayer.

Kids are tested from preschool to professional school. But the educators paid to deliver results don’t want to ever be judged by how well the children they teach do on tests.

That makes sense for the teachers. But it sure doesn’t make sense for the kids.

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