A majority of East End students sat for the state-issued English Language Arts exam in third through eighth grades last week, though at least three local school districts—Eastport South Manor, Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach—had a considerable number of students skip the tests, according to the districts surveyed this week.
To protest the recently implemented Common Core standards, which some feel do not accurately reflect students’ learning and are unduly stressful, many parents on Long Island have been choosing to have their children opt out of the state tests, whose results are tied to future state aid for the school districts.
The districts are evaluated based on the third- through eighth-graders’ test score growth and participation. According to State Education Department personnel, if a district does not have 95 percent of its students sitting for the exams, it is considered to be failing to make adequate yearly progress—in Education Department parlance, AYP—and is at risk for losing state aid if the problem is not rectified in the following years
At the Eastport South Manor School District, 320 students out of 1,745 opted out, meaning only 81.7 percent of the student body participated. This week, Dr. Jennifer Morrison Hart, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ESM, said it was unclear how this will affect the district in the future in terms of state aid.
Two other East End school districts reported moderately high numbers of students opting out. In Hampton Bays, 51 of 913 eligible students, or 5.6 percent, skipped the English test, which means that district, too, failed to make the state cutoff. In Westhampton Beach, 27 of 646 eligible students, or 4.2 percent, passed on the exam, though that district did meet the state cut-off.
This week, Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen said although 5.6 percent of his students did refuse the test, the formula the state uses for determining the final percentage is complicated, and the numbers are not finalized. He also said it is unclear at this time what it could mean for his district in terms of future state funding.
“The school does not promote parents refusing the test,” Mr. Clemensen said. “We encourage all students to participate in the exams. They are not meant to harm the students, and we are not building a culture where we are promoting anxiety, but if a parent decides a child is not going to participate, we do honor that refusal.”
In Montauk, only eight students opted not to take the test, but that figure still represents 4 percent of the eligible 197 students due to the smaller testing pool. However, since 96 percent of the students took the test, the students who opted out will not affect the district’s AYP.
Southampton reported only eight students sitting out the exam, compared to an estimated 620 who took it. East Hampton reported only three out of 665 opting out, and Tuckahoe had only one student opt out. The Bridgehampton School District did not report any students refusing to take the test.
In a community forum with State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King in December, parents criticized the new Common Core standard, saying it was taking the joy out of school, and argued that educators were not given enough time to learn and understand the new curriculum before being forced to teach it, thereby setting the children up to fail.
This week, one parent, Laura McMahon, said she made the decision to opt her son, Ryan, out of the eighth grade test in the Southampton School District after talking with him. On the whole, she does not support the new Common Core standards, she said, and felt this was the best way to let the state hear her voice.
“I don’t feel the test assesses a student’s true knowledge, and it creates a lot of stress on both teachers and the kids,” she said. “I wanted to support Ryan in his decision, and I said this would be our way of having our voices heard. We said our piece.”
In order to opt a child out of the state tests, parents must send a written letter to the school district before the start of the exam, and must specify any and all tests their child is being excluded from. A student may not refuse a test without parental consent.
Several school administrators said they anticipate similar numbers for the state math assessment scheduled for later this month.
“The students were given an alternative activity consisting of critical reading and writing tasks to practice and reinforce skills that were taught in the class throughout the year,” Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday wrote via email this week of the students in his district who did not take the tests. “The district has not adopted any formal policy on opt-outs, as there is no provision for opt-outs provided in the law.”
State education officials, meanwhile, are suggesting that certain districts could ultimately pay a price if too many students skip the tests.
“The federal rules regarding participation on state exams have been in place for years and remain unchanged,” said Jeanne Beattie of the State Education Department in an email on Monday. “According to the rules, a school that does not meet the 95 percent participation rate requirement will fail to make adequate yearly progress and may over time cause that school to lose its good standing status.
“When students opt out of state assessments,” she continued, “districts and schools are at risk of becoming ineligible for grants, such as Reward School Grants, that require schools and/or districts to make AYP and/or be in good standing as a condition for funding.”
According to Ms. Beattie, the 95 percent participation requirement can be met in two ways, either with 95 percent or more students taking the exam in the current year, or 95 percent of students in the current and prior year combined taking the test. That means some of the schools that are on the brink can combine their test totals from the past two years and still meet participation requirements.
Dr. Hart of the Eastport South Manor district said that last year, the district received approximately $91,000 in state aid earmarked for reading resources. It is now possible that, next year, it will have to use that money to fund a state-mandated program that encourages higher participation in the exams.
“There is talk that this could impact how we use our Title 1 funding,” Dr. Hart said. “We might have to use the money to do something else that is state-mandated to reach optimum participation levels.”
According to Dr. Nicholas Dyno, assistant superintendent for instruction at Southampton, the district encourages parents not to opt out their children by reinforcing the importance of the exams. The test, he said, is an important benchmark for student’s learning and college preparedness.
“The point of the test is not to harm students,” Dr. Dyno said. “It is so we can get a real sign of where they are compared to the Common Core and compared to their grade level—it is a rigorous test and it takes a lot of effort, but we are confident in our students’ abilities.”
Ms. Beattie of the State Education Department echoed those thoughts.
“The biggest consequence that comes when students don’t take the state tests is that their parents, teachers and principals don’t have a chance to see how they’re doing, in objective terms, against other children in their school, their district, the region, and across the state,” she said.