Opting out from NYS Assessments

I’ve been pretty vocal about my distaste for all this testing. I’ve written to all my elected officials about it, met with my school administrators, attended anti-testing meetings and read anti-testing blogs (for a great one, go here).  And I have several friends who have gone to the trouble to actually opt their children out from the NYS Assessments.

Then why was I so surprised when my 6th grader informed me that he wants to opt out of the NYS Assessments scheduled to take place in our District April 16 – 26?  I mean, I posted the following on my Facebook page just last week:

Courtesy of Boycott High Stakes Tests:
Arm yourselves with the facts, here is what we know about the tests:

-We know that our children can in fact refuse to participate in the state tests.
-We know that under the provision of the NYS Testing Program Educator Guide (Common Core, 2013, p.9), which explains “When students have completed their tests…students may be permitted to read silently.”
-We know it is within a parents legal right to act on behalf of our children.
-We know refusal of the state tests will not affect a student’s grades, standing, right to remedial educational services, rights to consideration for admission into honors programs, or grade advancement.
-We know the students refusal will result in a score of “999” or “no valid score”, which neither hurts or helps a teachers’ APPR.
-We know the school and district, under the ESEA waiver, will have no consequence to their standing or status; your accountability status as of 2012 remaining intact until the 2015-16 school year, regardless of % of participation of tests by students this year.
-We know our wide-spread student refusals this April will have NO financial consequence to the district.

So . . . uh, why am I so reticent to let my son opt-out?  What kind of a hypocrite am I?

I guess part of it is that my understanding of opting out is all so anecdotal and fuzzy.  First, the information I so blithely posted on my Facebook page — well, on closer examination, what exactly is “Boycott High Stakes Testing”?  I can’t find a link to a website or anything like that, so where did this information come from?

Doing a little more digging, I started sifting through the Change the Stakes website, an excellent, thoughtful, anti-testing resource.  They offer the following flyer on What Parents Need to Know About Opting Out of NY State Tests.  Reading through it, my heart sank, because opting out really isn’t as cut and dried as I previously thought.

First, many school districts in New York State use the NYS Assessments for students’ end of the year grades, so opting out of the tests might affect your child’s final grade.

Second, opting out could potentially affect your child’s promotion to the next grade.

Third, if too many children opt out of the NYS tests, evaluation scores for individual teachers and funding for individual schools might be affected.

Frankly, I’m not so worried about the first and second items on my list — my 6th grader already has a boatload of grades for homework, quizzes, projects and class participation.  I can’t imagine that missing one standardized test could really affect his grade or his promotion to seventh grade.

No, what really concerns me is the effect his opting out might have on his teachers’ evaluations and on the District as a whole.  Now, of course, one kid opting out is probably not going to make a difference, but what if this catches on?  What if there are other parents who feel the same and want to opt their children out?   What if we ALL do what we think is right?

Yikes.  This is practically civil disobedience, isn’t it?  And there are going to be consequences.  And the consequences don’t just affect my kid, but could also affect his teachers and the school district.   I mean, who knows, the NYS Education Department might cut funding to the District if enough kids refuse to take the tests.

The official word from the NYS Education Department, in a memo from January 2013, seems to state pretty clearly that parents DO NOT have the right to opt their children out:

“State testing is considered an important part of instruction in education programs. It provides an evaluation of student mastery of content and skills in various courses of study and helps shape future instruction. Tests are considered part of a “course of study” under a board’s authority and, as noted above, are included as part of the program requirements for students in Grades 3–8 under Sections 100.3 and 100.4 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

With the exception of certain areas in which parental consent is required, such as Committee on Special Education (CSE) evaluations for students with disabilities and certain federally-funded surveys and analyses specified under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (see 20 U.S.C. 1232h), there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests. The failure to comply with the requirements provided above will have a negative impact on a school or school district’s accountability, as all schools are required to have a 95% participation rate in State testing.”

It all sounds very Orwellian to me — as I read the above, it seems to say that parents have less control over their children than the State.  And that makes me all sorts of uncomfortable.

I don’t quite know what sort of a “negative impact” opting students out of the assessments will have on a District.  But the last thing I want to do is hurt my District and jeopardize any of its State funding.  However, I also want to do what I think is right and I definitely don’t think having my kid spend nine hours taking state tests that no one really seems to know exactly what is being tested is the right choice.   (Check out this article in the Journal News.)

So, I’m caught between a rock and hard place here.  I honestly believe that this obsession with high stakes testing is greviously damaging our educational system, not fixing its problems.  I would even go so far as to say that the wildly increased amount of standardized testing we’re subjecting our children to is actively damaging their education.   And I feel that the New York State Education Department needs to hear from parents, educators and administrators loudly and clearly before this headlong rush to  over-test our children will be checked.

But, frankly, I’m afraid to do what I think is right.  I’d be interested to hear from other parents on this — have you thought about opting your child/children out of the NYS assessments this year?  If so, have you?  Why and why not??

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1 Response to Opting out from NYS Assessments

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