April 14-16, 2015 marked the administration days for the ELA state test in New York. This year about three times as many students “opted-out” of the New York State Common Core test in the middle school I work in than last year. State-wide the numbers soared even more, most notably West Seneca, a school district near Buffalo where reportedly two thousand students refused to partake in the bubbling in and “extended response” festivities. Two thousand in one district compared to the 50,000- 60,000 – the state-wide refusal number last school year according to state officials.
Students in my school submitted letters from their parents opting them out, I received calls the morning of the exam from anxious parents who decided last minute and then asked how this would affect their child’s academic progress and chances of promotion into the next grade. Surely a packed question and one that I could not answer given the time constraints and my position in the school. The principal tried to talk some parents out of opting out but most stuck to their guns and even used language from many local vociferous parent groups like Change the Stakes.
A communication was sent out to families encouraging them to weigh their decision carefully:
“Firstly, thank you for providing notice that your student is considering opting out of this year’s Common Core NYS math and ELA tests. Both your student and the school have worked hard this sure to ensure mastery of the grade-level standards set forth by the State of New York. While I am disappointed to hear your student will not have the opportunity to show his/her knowledge through this testing process, as a public school, we must provide families an option to refuse the test. “
Under state and federal accountability rules, the metric is if less than 95% of a school’s eligible test takers sit for the exam than the school will be deemed as failing to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). So it is in principal’s best interest to push for the exam.
As a middle schooler in a Brooklyn public school in the 1990s , we had “city-wides”- there was one for Math and another for ELA. Now, students sit for a cumulative 540 minutes, (about 4.5 hours for each subject) that is quite a significant increase and comparable to examinations at the graduate level. Furthermore, no other country tests to this extent according to Diane Ravitch, education policy scholar and former Secretary of Education. It is inspiring to see parents so involved in their child’s education that they are take a bold political action, for many maybe their first venture into activism.
Next week is the 3-day long Math state test, more opt-outs are expected.