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Calls to opt-out intensify as state testing begins

Councilman Daniel Dromm speaks to attendees of an opt-out rally outside of the Jackson Heights post office.
TimesLedger Newspapers
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This week marked the testing days for the New York State English Language Arts exams, administered throughout the state. As with the past few years, the test dates coincided with calls to opt-out of the exams, with elected officials and parents calling for the Department of Education to follow a unanimous 2015 New York City Council resolution mandating that the DOE inform parents of a student’s right to boycott the test.

“These exams, originally intended to assess academic development, are still being used inappropriately by state and federal education departments,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the Council’s education chair. “High stakes, standardized tests were never intended to be used to evaluate schools and grade students.”

The ELA exams were administered from Tuesday through Thursday of this week, while math exams were scheduled for May 2 through May 4. Opting-out is a protest against the Common Core standards, while some parents and teachers contend it is an attempt to target struggling schools for closure. Last year, 21 percent of students opted out statewide, though only 3 percent of city students decided to do so. However, the number of city students who opted-out did jump to 12,999 from 7,904 the year before.

“Make no mistake: high stakes standardized tests are for politicians, not teachers. Their purpose is to discipline the workforce and close neighborhood schools so charters can replace them,” Marilena Marchetti, a DOE occupational therapist, said. “If public education weren’t a trillion-dollar industry the business class was salivating over would adults really allow children to endure the toxic stress these tests induce? Not a chance.”

On March 23, StudentsFirstNY, an education reform advocacy group that promotes charter schools in the state, held a “Say Yes to the Test” rally on the steps of City Hall, with proponents arguing the state DOE and the Board of Regents had worked to improve test quality. The rally accompanied a statewide campaign to promote opting-in, with radio and social media advertisements.

“These assessments give New York teachers and students the information they need to prepare for the future,” Crystal Lee-McJunkin, a parent from Jamaica, said. “If parents want to fight income inequality, I urge them to say yes to the test.”

The state Education Department released information showing that about 230,000 students throughout the state opted-out last year, part of a national trend of bucking Common Core standardized testing. Dromm and others argued that part of the reason the city’s statistics trailed significantly in comparison is that parents did not know it was within their rights to opt their students out of testing.

Kemala Karmen, a steering committee member for the New York State Allies of Public Education and a public school parent, said she found when parents were seeking more information about opting out, they were often not even aware of their right to refuse. To make their request official, Karmen said parents needed to write a letter or email the principal of their child’s school, letting the administration know of their decision to have their child refuse the test.

“It is clear that the DOE’s failure to apprise parents of their rights, as called for by 2015’s City Council resolution, has resulted in the suppression of opt-out in our city, which is not only undemocratic, but shameful for a department which allegedly champions ‘parent engagement,’” she said.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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