Opt Outs Impact Testing

As children all across Long Island head off to school, kids in grades 3-8 brace themselves for a new round of the New York State Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics exams.

In response to concerns from school officials, parents, and teachers regarding the level of testing administered to children in grades 3-8,  U.S. Rep. Steve Israel joined 12 of Long Island’s school district superintendents, on Sept. 8, to present new legislation that would reduce the number of tests taken by students in grades 3-8.

“While some testing is essential to ensure that our students are actually learning what is being taught, I share the same concerns as many of our local superintendents and parents,” Israel said. “We are over-testing our students and stifling their creativity.”

This past year 1,136,069 students statewide took the Common Core ELA and Math assessments—a decrease of 45,000 from last year—according to the New York State Department of Education.

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 25, 2014 edition of the Levittown Tribune.

Part of the reason for this steady drop, stems from the ever-growing number of parents advocating that students “opt out”—or refuse to take the standardized tests.

For the Levittown Public School District, the number of students opting out of the state exams stayed relatively low among students in grades 3-5, never peaking above 18 percent. Meanwhile, in grade six, 21 percent would opt out of the ELA assessment and 31 percent would opt out of the math portion. Similarly, among 7th graders, 23 percent would opt out of the ELA exam, while 33 percent would opt out of math.

In Levittown, eighth grade opt-outs skyrocketed with a quarter of the class opting not to take the ELA assessments, while almost half of all eighth-grade students opted not to take the mathematics portion.

Across Long Island, local “opt out” movements made a huge splash, with nearly 20,000 students—or ten percent of students in grades 3-8—opting out, according to figures compiled by the New York State Allies for Public Education.

For Rep. Israel, the reason parents are so vehemently opposed to the Common Core, largely has to do with the amount  of time spent preparing to take the exam. Israel said he believes that children need classroom time to learn knowledge, “not just how to take a test.”

So, Israel worked with many Long Island superintendents to draft legislation allowing states to choose an alternative testing schedule for students, which will curb the amount of tests they have to take while still reflecting their abilities and the effectiveness of school districts.

Based on the feedback from local superintendents from the Roslyn, Hicksville, Manhasset, Half Hallow Hills, Commack, Westbury, Port Washington, Huntington, Glen Cove, Oyster Bay and Hauppague school districts, Israel drafted the Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing (TEST) Act, with the goal of reflecting a student’s abilities without subjecting them to over-testing.

The TEST Act consists of three sections: The first section sets the standard that students in grades 3 through 8 would only be required to take one test per year. According to Israel, the legislation would split the number of exams, requiring students in grades 3, 5 and 7 only be given the English Language Arts assessment, while students in grades 4, 6 and 8 be given the mathematics assessment. Currently, students have to take both ELA and math tests each year.

The second section calls for schools that rank in the top 15 percent in the state, on all of the ELA or math exams, be allowed to move to a four-year testing cycle. In addition, the tests must have a 75 percent passing rate based on the raw scores. For these schools, ELA would be tested in grades 3 and 7, and math in grades 4 and 8.

Lastly, while current law dictates students with limited proficiency in the English language, may take mandated tests in their own language, the new legislation proposes test results on these mandated exams not be included in accountability measures.

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