More Students Are Opting Out of New York State Standardized Tests

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Students Protest Against Standardized Testing in Colorado
Photo: Craig F. Walker/Copyright - 2015 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.

The backlash to Common Core standards grew intensely this year, with an expanding number of parents, teachers, and activists calling for students to “opt out” on standardized New York State testing in reading and math. The number of students refusing to sit for exams was expected to rise, and according to the New York State Education Department, it did: Fully 20 percent of students in New York did not take at least one state test, a big edge up from last year, when about 7 percent of students declined to sit for exams.

New York City, where pockets of protests popped up, had a significantly lower opt-out rate than the state average — at about 1.4 percent. That number was actually slightly higher than officials predicted for a school district that educates approximately 1.1 million students. That was not the case for certain school districts on Long Island or parts of upstate New York, where some areas had opt-out rates exceeding 50 percent. Chateaugay Central School District, near the Vermont border, had one of the highest opt-out rates in the state, with almost 90 percent of the students not taking the tests (the school district population is less than 550). Plainedge Union Free School District (more than 3,200 students) and Shoreham-Wading River (about 2,500), both on Long Island, had opt-out rates at more than 70 percent.

Still, as the Education Department noted, 80 percent of students came prepared with their No. 2 pencils (if that’s how they still do things these days) and took the tests — but the results were not stellar. Just 31 percent passed the reading test (technically called ELA, or English Language Arts/Literacy) and 38 percent passed the math portion. These numbers ticked up from 2014 (30.6 percent in reading; 36.2 in math), but the scores are still far below the days pre–Common Core tests, which were introduced in 2013. In New York City, Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said city students’ marks nudged up from last year, but are slightly below the state averages, with 30.4 percent passing the reading tests, and 35.2 percent proficient in math.

New York is known for having a pretty tough test compared to other states. The Times spoke with one of the writers of an essay featured on the reading portion who was at first stumped by one of the questions about the story he created. But weird multiple-choice questions aside, the battle is far from over in New York: This year, Governor Andrew Cuomo had pushed through a controversial measure to more closely tie part of teachers’ evaluations to scores. The unions are mostly against this metric, as are many parents, so the high opt-out rate could fuel the Common Core fight. New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee questioned this year’s scores, saying “in a year in which record numbers of parents repudiated the state’s standardized testing program by ‘opting out,’ [scores] aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”