Students Opting Out Across The Island

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Thousands of students across Nassau County refused to participate in the first round of common core testing last week, sending a clear message to Albany regarding state assessment testing—and more of the same was expected during this week’s testing.

According to the Floral Park-Bellerose School District, 675 of 899 students took the first round of tests beginning on Tuesday, April 14; 24.9 percent refused. Neighboring school districts like New Hyde Park-Garden City Park had less than 24 percent of its eligible students refuse, compared to Garden City with more than 44 percent of its eligible students refuse the testing.

“My son was a refusal for ELA [tests] and will also be a refusal for the math tests next week,” said Melissa Mazzocco of Floral Park.

She explained how she reached her decision. “I refused last year as well; I was torn and refused because I just wasn’t comfortable with him taking the tests and all the controversy surrounding them.” She said she continued to ask questions about the testing throughout the past year, including attending many forums and meeting one-on-one with school administrators.

Mazzocco said that she has briefly explained the refusal situation to her son and “he knows clearly that he is not allowed to just skip out on class work or class tests and that there were bigger reasons behind this refusal.” She told the Dispatch, “Although, he doesn’t know all the details and we’ve chose to keep him out of much of the negative dialogue around opting out as to not to influence his views on school negatively or possibly cause him to stress.” Another Floral Park parent echoed similar feelings. “This is my third year refusing for ELA and Math,” said Debbie Heiser Meyfohrt. “I will continue to do so until this situation is fixed.”

According to the group Long Island Opt Out, 68,568 students have opted out of the ELA tests. But Jeanette Deutermann, who spearheads the Long Island Opt Out Facebook group and movement, said she has mixed feelings about the refusal numbers.

“I am so incredibly grateful to parents that have chosen to stand up for public schools, their children, and our public school teachers by refusing to allow their children to participate in the NYS assessments this year. However, that is mixed with sadness that our classrooms have come to this. I would love for nothing more than to know that legislators, Governor Cuomo, and the State Education Department (SED) have finally heard us loud and clear as to what we want and do not want for our children’s education here in New York,” Deutermann said. “Unfortunately we continue to hear the rhetoric that ‘parents just do not understand how important these tests are.’ It is not that we do not understand the importance of knowing the progress of our children, it’s that we do not believe that these assessments are valid or useful in any way to give us that information on how they are progressing. We value the importance of child-centered, hands-on learning, and these common core assessments have robbed our children of that rich, creative learning environment all children deserve. We will continue to refuse these assessments in growing numbers until Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and the SED reverses course.”

However, the SED maintains that the tests are a valuable indicator of a child’s progress, and says that test refusal is a terrible mistake.

“Test refusal eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “We are not going to force kids to take tests. But we are going to continue to help students and parents understand it’s a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.”

According to SED, under federal regulations, a school with less than 95 percent of its students participating in the assessment can lose significant funding.

“The state education agency is expected to consider imposing sanctions on that district, including—in the most egregious cases—withholding programmatic funds,” a spokesperson for the SED said. “What sanctions to impose must be decided on a case by case basis, taking into account the degree and length of time the district has failed to meet participation rate requirements and the reasons for such failure.”

However, Matt Jacobs, regional staff director for the Nassau chapter of the New York State Union of Teachers, said that legally, there’s no connection between state aid and students taking the test.

“There is no provision in the law for the schools state aid or state funding to be reduced in any way, based on the number of students taking the test,” Jacobs said. “We had schools last year where more than 5 percent of students opted out, and [the district] didn’t lose any funding.”

—Additional reporting by Betsy Abraham

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