Press-Republican

February 26, 2014

City School to accommodate test refusals

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School District will accommodate students whose parents opt them out of April’s state exams.

The children will be allowed to read quietly in a separate space from where the standardized tests are administered, according to City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short.

At the School Board’s Jan. 23 meeting, Plattsburgh parent Margarita Garcia-Notario told the board that a large group of parents across the state, including the North Country, intend to refuse the state’s third-through-eighth-grade tests on their children’s behalf.

Many feel the assessments, which were rolled out last spring and are based on the state-mandated Common Core Learning Standards, are excessive and unfair to students, as well as teachers, whose performance evaluations are tied to exam scores.

‘SIT AND STARE’

Garcia-Notario, who is also president of Stafford Middle School’s Family School Organization and co-president of Plattsburgh High School’s Community School Organization, asked that children who are opted out be treated with respect during exam times.

“We’re going to create a respectful environment within our school to be able to manage that,” Short told attendees of the board’s next meeting.

Some schools, he noted, have employed a method known as “sit and stare,” which “is the expression of making students sit in front of a blank sheet of paper or a test and stare at it for an hour and a half because their mother or father told them not to take the test.

“We’re not going to do that,” Short said. “It’s inhumane.”

New York State United Teachers also recently condemned the “sit and stare” method, which, according to a media release from the union, has been adopted by at least 15 Long Island districts and, reportedly, others in the state.

UNIFIED STATEMENT

Short said he would draft a unified statement to be given to district parents who opt their children out of the exams.

“We’ll have one district response that will be going out to them saying we are required to do testing but we’re going to honor parental rights above all other things and create a respectful environment,” he said.

Additional staff will be needed at the elementary level to supervise students not taking the exams, the superintendent noted, as teachers will be occupied in the testing rooms.

Board member Amelia Goerlitz asked at the recent meeting how the district’s state-generated teacher and building scores will be affected by students opting out.

“If we fall below a 95 percent testing rate, we could become identified as a school in need of improvement because we didn’t test enough students,” Short replied.

However, he continued, “that personally doesn’t worry me because it wasn’t that our teachers (or) our administrators chose not to test students; it was a parental decision.”

TEACHER EVALUATIONS

If by chance all the students who opted out also showed the most academic growth, Short noted, it would make for a lower teacher score.

However, he continued, the district’s way of evaluating teachers is mainly focused on direct classroom observation and other measures of student growth.

“We didn’t put as much stock in the state score in terms of its value to us for a teacher performance because we see the nuances of the state test being changed every year,” Short said.

Also during the session, board members Robert Hall, Fred Wachtmeister and Ron Marino expressed their approval of the City School District’s decision to accommodate students who are opted out.

“In this time in their life, I think it’s excellent that they’re not made to feel bad about that,” Marino said. 

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com