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Apr 8, 2014 4:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Test Opt-Outs In Eastport South Manor, Hampton Bays Exceed State Cutoff

Apr 9, 2014 10:00 AM

A majority of East End students sat for the state-issued English Language Arts exam in third through eighth grades last week, though at least three local school districts—Eastport South Manor, Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach—had a considerable number of students skip the tests, according to the districts surveyed this week.

To protest the recently implemented Common Core standards, which some feel do not accurately reflect students’ learning and are unduly stressful, many parents on Long Island have been choosing to have their children opt out of the state tests, whose results are tied to future state aid for the school districts.

The districts are evaluated based on the third- through eighth-graders’ test score growth and participation. According to State Education Department personnel, if a district does not have 95 percent of its students sitting for the exams, it is considered to be failing to make adequate yearly progress—in Education Department parlance, AYP—and is at risk for losing state aid if the problem is not rectified in the following years

At the Eastport South Manor School District, 320 students out of 1,745 opted out, meaning only 81.7 percent of the student body participated. This week, Dr. Jennifer Morrison Hart, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ESM, said it was unclear how this will affect the district in the future in terms of state aid.

Two other East End school districts reported moderately high numbers of students opting out. In Hampton Bays, 51 of 913 eligible students, or 5.6 percent, skipped the English test, which means that district, too, failed to make the state cutoff. In Westhampton Beach, 27 of 646 eligible students, or 4.2 percent, passed on the exam, though that district did meet the state cut-off.

This week, Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen said although 5.6 percent of his students did refuse the test, the formula the state uses for determining the final percentage is complicated, and the numbers are not finalized. He also said it is unclear at this time what it could mean for his district in terms of future state funding.

“The school does not promote parents refusing the test,” Mr. Clemensen said. “We encourage all students to participate in the exams. They are not meant to harm the students, and we are not building a culture where we are promoting anxiety, but if a parent decides a child is not going to participate, we do honor that refusal.”

In Montauk, only eight students opted not to take the test, but that figure still represents 4 percent of the eligible 197 students due to the smaller testing pool. However, since 96 percent of the students took the test, the students who opted out will not affect the district’s AYP.

Southampton reported only eight students sitting out the exam, compared to an estimated 620 who took it. East Hampton reported only three out of 665 opting out, and Tuckahoe had only one student opt out. The Bridgehampton School District did not report any students refusing to take the test.

In a community forum with State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King in December, parents criticized the new Common Core standard, saying it was taking the joy out of school, and argued that educators were not given enough time to learn and understand the new curriculum before being forced to teach it, thereby setting the children up to fail.

This week, one parent, Laura McMahon, said she made the decision to opt her son, Ryan, out of the eighth grade test in the Southampton School District after talking with him. On the whole, she does not support the new Common Core standards, she said, and felt this was the best way to let the state hear her voice.

“I don’t feel the test assesses a student’s true knowledge, and it creates a lot of stress on both teachers and the kids,” she said. “I wanted to support Ryan in his decision, and I said this would be our way of having our voices heard. We said our piece.”

In order to opt a child out of the state tests, parents must send a written letter to the school district before the start of the exam, and must specify any and all tests their child is being excluded from. A student may not refuse a test without parental consent.

Several school administrators said they anticipate similar numbers for the state math assessment scheduled for later this month.

“The students were given an alternative activity consisting of critical reading and writing tasks to practice and reinforce skills that were taught in the class throughout the year,” Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday wrote via email this week of the students in his district who did not take the tests. “The district has not adopted any formal policy on opt-outs, as there is no provision for opt-outs provided in the law.”

State education officials, meanwhile, are suggesting that certain districts could ultimately pay a price if too many students skip the tests.

“The federal rules regarding participation on state exams have been in place for years and remain unchanged,” said Jeanne Beattie of the State Education Department in an email on Monday. “According to the rules, a school that does not meet the 95 percent participation rate requirement will fail to make adequate yearly progress and may over time cause that school to lose its good standing status.

“When students opt out of state assessments,” she continued, “districts and schools are at risk of becoming ineligible for grants, such as Reward School Grants, that require schools and/or districts to make AYP and/or be in good standing as a condition for funding.”

According to Ms. Beattie, the 95 percent participation requirement can be met in two ways, either with 95 percent or more students taking the exam in the current year, or 95 percent of students in the current and prior year combined taking the test. That means some of the schools that are on the brink can combine their test totals from the past two years and still meet participation requirements.

Dr. Hart of the Eastport South Manor district said that last year, the district received approximately $91,000 in state aid earmarked for reading resources. It is now possible that, next year, it will have to use that money to fund a state-mandated program that encourages higher participation in the exams.

“There is talk that this could impact how we use our Title 1 funding,” Dr. Hart said. “We might have to use the money to do something else that is state-mandated to reach optimum participation levels.”

According to Dr. Nicholas Dyno, assistant superintendent for instruction at Southampton, the district encourages parents not to opt out their children by reinforcing the importance of the exams. The test, he said, is an important benchmark for student’s learning and college preparedness.

“The point of the test is not to harm students,” Dr. Dyno said. “It is so we can get a real sign of where they are compared to the Common Core and compared to their grade level—it is a rigorous test and it takes a lot of effort, but we are confident in our students’ abilities.”

Ms. Beattie of the State Education Department echoed those thoughts.

“The biggest consequence that comes when students don’t take the state tests is that their parents, teachers and principals don’t have a chance to see how they’re doing, in objective terms, against other children in their school, their district, the region, and across the state,” she said.

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I had to take Iowa tests and California tests and all kinds of other tests 45 years ago. I took regents tests, I took SATs and ACTs. It never occurred to me, my parents or my teachers to throw a hissy fit and refuse to take the tests. They were a measure of what I'd learned. How come, all of a sudden, this sort if testing is such a big deal? Teachers have been "teaching for the test" for decades, most recently under No Child Left Behind. There are always going to be mandated tests. Get used to it. ...more
By btdt (449), water mill on Apr 8, 14 7:00 PM
3 members liked this comment
These tests are useless. The tests are not graded & results not given back until the summer. The only score that is given back is 1, 2,3 or 4, that's it, no other info given to the teachers. Over 400 minutes of testing & that's the only feedback! These tests do not mean anything, it is not used to promote/demote or help get a child into college, there is no value to them. Then there are the horror stories of the children when they are taking these tests, some of these children are pulling out ...more
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 8, 14 10:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
Using the 95% participation rate is a bully tactic used by many schools, including Southampton, to get students to take these tests. New York was granted a waiver from USDED so it has flexibility with implementing NCLB. NY is required to identify all schools as priority, focus or in good standing. Most schools on LI are in good standing. "Focus Districts will be required to set aside specific funds for state approved programs & services" -NYSED. Setting aside funds is very different then losing ...more
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 9, 14 6:21 AM
How Southampton deals with children that "opt-out", in other words students that "refuse" to take the test: a letter or email can be directed to the principal & teacher which must state that you "refuse" to allow your child to take these tests. Do not use the terminology of " opt-out", this district likes to play word games and it will not be accepted. The day of the test your child will never have to verbally refuse the test, they will be taken to the library, there they can read, do work or ...more
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 9, 14 6:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
I don't think any support to "opt out" should be given.
My grandmother used to say that when a baby was crying, it was good. It helped develop its lungs and learn to deal with frustration. Today dear grandma would be accused of "child abuse".
Frustration is part of the growth process for children and it helps them learn to deal with difficult tasks. The world is unfair and those who learn to deal with it get ahead.
Unfortunately the race for excellence seems to be out of vogue ...more
By TheTurtle (143), Southampton on Apr 9, 14 9:13 AM
1 member liked this comment
I've read the full article in today's paper and it is very misleading, especially comments made by Jeanne Beattie. In actuality, participating students receive no feedback other than a score of 1-4, and the scores aren’t even published until either late Summer or the beginning of the following school year. When the tests are scored (and you can be a scorer if you answer their Craigslist ad for 12 bucks an hour - I kid you not), teachers and parents are not allowed to know where each individual ...more
By ElizabethSchmitt (3), Springs, New York on Apr 9, 14 9:29 AM
4 members liked this comment
Great. Now we have even less of a chance of kids working this summer being able to make change for a sale in their heads. Pathetic! Or maybe they will just opt out of work if it's too hard or does not feel right.
By G (342), Southampton on Apr 9, 14 10:18 AM
Full of inaccurate info! This is not journalism, this is propaganda, at best. Learn how to research and report.
By MikeMartinsen (1), Northport, New York on Apr 9, 14 6:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By GailSimons (1), East Hampton, New York on Apr 9, 14 9:51 PM
Regarding the upcoming math test, 4th graders will sit for 100 minutes on the 3rd day.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 10, 14 7:01 AM
13 yr old Sierra Olivero was suspended from school last week after telling classmates they could opt-out of taking the test. Gag orders given to teachers that administer these tests. Anyone still want their kids to take these tests?
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 11, 14 7:59 PM
"Time will tell whether the current mix of measures- from state tests and regents exams to graduation rates and student portfolios - provide the best indicators of college and career readiness." - NY State Education Commissioner John King 4/10/14
Huh? the state is pushing full force with these assessments but doesn't know if it really works?!
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 11, 14 9:22 PM
Half the kids graduating high school need remedial help. Do you really want to leave things status quo?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 12, 14 5:25 PM
The federal take over of our education system (AKA Common Core) is not the answer.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Apr 13, 14 7:49 PM
Making believe this country is even in the top twenty for education isn't the answer either.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 15, 14 10:00 PM
How could you possibly know how the U.S ranks? The members of the CC validation committee were not told which countries we were ranked against.
By April1 (156), Southampton on May 2, 14 8:17 PM