Standardized tests for students in grades three through eight begin Tuesday. Last year a few parents kept their children from taking the exams. This year the number sitting out could be far higher.
It's best if students take the tests. But the exams would be more useful if the results were sufficiently detailed to reveal the specific strengths and weaknesses of children, teachers and curricula. Results were far more detailed before the new Common Core tests came along.
The issue is money. Right now, parents and teachers can see how students did on 25 percent of questions, and the state Education Department website provides a breakdown. Those questions, though, can't be used the following year. Creating enough new questions for next year's tests to let kids see how they did on every question on this year's exams costs money. New York's Board of Regents recently proposed that the state increase funding by $8.7 million to provide much more detailed and useful test results. That needs to happen.
But it's hard to understand how kids would benefit by sitting out the tests. They wouldn't gain experience. And teachers wouldn't be able to measure student learning against a concrete yardstick.
Also, it's important that 95 percent of kids in each school and in specific subgroups take the tests. Not hitting that benchmark might hurt schools' ratings or cost them future funding. And opting out of tests won't, as some activists claim, invalidate the scores of whole schools and thus lead to an abandonment of new Common Core standards. All boycotting the tests will do is teach that institutions, standards and rules don't matter if they're unpleasant or difficult.
The state needs to make the tests and their results more valuable, but the kids need to take the exams because they'll learn more by doing so than by refusing.