Press-Republican

April 15, 2013

Education officials discuss test opt out

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Liv Hovis, a third-grader in the Plattsburgh City School District, is expected to begin taking state tests Tuesday, along with thousands of other students statewide.

However, Liv’s mother, Deb Hovis, has doubts about whether it’s in her daughter’s best interest.

The standardized exams assess knowledge of English language arts and math in third- through eighth-graders, as well as science beginning in fourth grade.

Deb, like a number of other parents in this area and around the state, is considered opting her daughter out of the tests, on which, she says, schools have been forced to place too much emphasis, leaving little time for classroom teachers to explore other topics of interest to students.

“I feel like the schools don’t have a choice in this, and we’re sort of being bullied into it,” she said.

NEW STANDARDS

In addition, this year’s tests are expected to cover the new, state-mandated Common Core standards, which many schools are still in the process of implementing.

“The tests have changed in content and format every year,” said Chris Ford, a guidance counselor at Willsboro Central School. “There’s been no consistency to what’s on them or how they are scored. The state also does not explain what formula is used to create the scores.”

The results of the tests have no bearing on whether a child advances to the next grade level but do indicate if a student struggles in an area of study.

Still, Deb said, the results do not provide specific details of what the child may have had difficulty with and don’t account for the fact that a student may have done poorly as the result of outside circumstances, such as missing breakfast or simply having a bad day.

“It’s just meaningless,” she said of the scores.

OPTING OUT

While the state requires all public-school students in grades three through eight to take the tests, there are ways around it.

“If a student is absent and misses the test, there is no negative consequence, unlike a required Regents exam, (which) a student has to pass to graduate,” Ford said.

But while Deb is not in favor of Liv taking the exams, which will be administered to her third-grade class over several days, she also doesn’t want her daughter to have poor attendance.

Tom Dunn, a spokesperson for the New York State Education Department, told the Press-Republican that absences from all or part of the exams “should be managed consistent with the attendance policies of the district.”

Another way some avoid the tests, according to Ford, is for students to attend the exams but refuse to participate.

“The child sits in on the exam but refuses to open the book or answer questions,” he said. “They hand in a blank answer sheet. The school then bubbles in a section in the heading of the answer sheet as a ‘test refusal.’”

But Deb feels this option is also problematic, as she doesn’t think it right to advise her daughter to sit in class and defy her teacher’s instructions.

MEASUREMENTS

The goal of the tests, according to State Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins, is to ensure that all students are prepared for success in college and meaningful careers upon graduating high school.

“Parents who keep their children from taking these tests are essentially saying, ‘I don’t want to know where my child stands, in objective terms, on the path to college and career readiness’ — and we think that that’s doing them a real disservice,” Tompkins said in a written response to the Press-Republican.

Deb, however, said she is well aware of her daughter’s academic standings, as Liv is given benchmark evaluations multiple times a year at her school.

“I am a huge participant in my daughter’s classroom and with my daughter’s teacher,” she added.

IMPACT ON SCHOOLS

Still, Ford noted, there could be consequences for schools where students do not take the exams.

“Schools are required to test 95 percent of the total number of students in grades three through eight in their building,” he said.

And, according to Dunn, schools that do not meet that participation requirement will fail to make “adequate yearly progress,” which could result in the school being required to develop a local assistance plan.

In addition, he said, “schools failing to make (adequate yearly progress) cannot become Reward Schools and are therefore ineligible to receive the funding that comes with that designation.”

Given that the tests are required, Chazy Elementary Principal Tom Tregan said he encourages students to do their best on the exams and know that they have received quality instruction from their teachers, as well as the support of aides and assistants.

“Ultimately, the results will help us best design and provide instruction to meet the challenging state standards,” he said.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com