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3 reasons why 'opting out' spells disaster

Pam Verity, of Commack, NY, with Uniting Commack

Pam Verity, of Commack, NY, with Uniting Commack for the Love of Learning, holds up a sign during the 1st annual NYS Rally in "The Great American Opt Out" at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station on March 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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?


Students will miss a 'checkup'

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 ready for college or careers. The assessments being administered this month are designed as an annual "checkup" to ensure all kids are making progress. They provide teachers and schools information to help get students who may be falling behind back on track.


Loss of basis to compare

The assessments are the only common measure to compare Plainview with Poughkeepsie or Brentwood with 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. To opt out is to do a disservice to high-need districts on Long Island and throughout the state.

Federal funds at stake

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 send 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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