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Testing ‘opt out’ gains momentum in Queens schools

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Though the “opt out” movement has had unprecedented support statewide this year, very few parents in city schools refused state standardized testing for their children in the last few weeks. The movement drew even lower support in Queens, but preliminary estimates in the borough may not be accurate.

State Common Core math exams were administered to children in grades three through eight in public schools last week. Across New York City, 3,503 students, with written support from their legal guardians, refused to take the exam. English Language Arts exams were administered the week before, with about 3,445 elementary and middle schoolers “opting out” of them.

Those refusal numbers are according to preliminary data collected from educators by the education activist organization Change the Stakes.

Statewide, families refused ELA tests for over 193,000 students, with 76 percent of school districts reporting, and math tests for over 150,000 students, with 44 percent of school districts reporting as of Tuesday, according to data collected by United2Counter.

Those numbers are up from about 49,000 students who opted out of ELA tests in 2014 and 67,000 students that opted out of math tests last year. The push by parents and activists to opt children out of state exams came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented his policy proposal to make state standardized test scores count for 50 percent of teacher evaluations.

In Queens, only 114 students refused ELA tests and 137 refused math tests, according to Change the Stakes.

The refusal numbers from city schools are conservative estimates, and supporters of the movement said they are likely much higher.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) has rallied support in his city council district in the weeks before testing took place. From conversations with educators in his constituency, he said over 100 students opted out in School District 24 and at least 180 students opted out in School District 30.

“I’m very happy with the growing support for this movement in the city,” Dromm said. “I am a proponent of parents having the option to refuse these standardized tests for their children ... These tests have only been politicized by non-educators like the governor.”

But even as 20 percent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests statewide, the lack of participation in city schools is consistent with lower support.

Statewide, voters agree that children should have the right to refuse the recent state exams by a small margin, but voters in the five boroughs disagree with parents who refused the test by a margin of nearly two to one, according to a Siena College Research Institute poll analysis released Monday.

The Siena poll, which has an overall margin of error of about four percent, found that 50 percent of New York voters said parents were right to have their children opt out, whereas 44 percent disagreed. New York City voters thought parents were wrong by a 57- to 38-percent margin, according to the poll trends.

Dromm said even though the city has garnered lower support for test refusals than the rest of the state, it may just be because several parents don’t know they have an option.

“Support is growing in the city at a lower rate, but it’s growing. We’re sending a very clear message to Albany that tests shouldn’t be used in this way.”

The poll analysis found that support or opposition to the opt out movement did not fall so neatly along Republican, Democrat or Independent Party Lines, but concluded demographically, “A majority of white voters thought parents were right (to refuse the tests), while majorities of black, Latino and Jewish voters thought they were wrong.”

Updated 12:33 am, April 30, 2015
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