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Official New York State scores for the Common Core aligned English-Language Arts test administered last week and student opt-out numbers will not be reported until August, but reports are coming in from across the state. Common Core aligned math tests will be administered April 13, 14, and 15 in grades three through eight. It is not too late to have children opt-out of this second round of exams.
1. New York State Allies for Public Education is posting updates on opt-out numbers by district across the state on their Facebook page and on a spread sheet. The Lower Hudson Journal (lohud) is tracking opt-out numbers for Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties on its website. The Wall Street Journal reported that almost 100,000 students on Long Island, about half of the eligible students in grades three-to-eight, refused to take the Common Core aligned ELA test. A Newsday survey of 106 out of 124 Nassau and Suffolk County school districts put the opt-out rate at 51.5%.
2. Syracuse reports “The number of students refusing to take the state English assessment exams this week appears to be up slightly in Onondaga County, but the percentage opting out varies greatly among the districts, according to a syracuse.com survey of districts. Based on the percentages reported by school districts, the median percentage of students opting out rose from 20 percent last year to 22 percent, the survey found.
3. Queens, New York Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the City Council Education Committee, joined parents, students, and teachers at a rally at the Jackson Height Post Office to let community residents know that they have a right to opt their children out of high-stakes testing. Dromm complained, “The New York City Department of Education has not done an adequate job of informing parents of their rights despite the City Council passing a resolution last year calling on the DOE to do just that.”
4. In New York City, teachers aligned with a group called Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) defied a “gag order” from the Department of Education and potential disciplinary action to speak out against the tests. In an interview on NBC television news, Jia Lee, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at The Earth School in Manhattan, forcefully called on parents to “definitely opt out.” Lee, who is also a candidate for UFT presidency, declared, “Refuse. Boycott these tests because change will not happen with compliance.”
5. Complaints are pouring in from teachers about the New York State ELA Common Core test. Mark Naison of the Badass Teachers (BAT) circulated comments by one 8th grade teacher. “The test, on the whole, was an abomination. It was so developmentally inappropriate that the state should be brought up on child abuse charges. As I looked out at my hard working students, my heart sank. It sank because I know that they are being set up to fail this exam, but they do not know that this is the motive of the state . . . One reading passage in Book 2 was so difficult that between the first and second paragraphs the state itself had to footnote 6 words. The passage went on using so many other words, that were not footnoted, that simply are not in our common vernacular. For example, what are ‘fastnesses’?* This is a word that was used to describe the setting of the story, which became very important to understand as it relates to the questions that were asked on the following pages of the book. Now, I asked 8 of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of the 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capability of an average 8th grader? . . Then on day 3 of this marathon came the real whammy. Just trying to navigate the questions in Book 3 was nearly impossible for kids. One of my highest achieving students called me to her desk and pointed at the extended response question and said, “This question is just weird. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know what they want us to write. What should I do?” . . . She was one of 7 kids in my particular proctoring location that called me to her desk about that very same question. No one understood what was being asked of them. At the end of day 3 one of my special education students lay her head on her desk and tears began to fall. She said, “I’m so tired, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what they are asking, and whatever they are asking I don’t know how to answer it because I didn’t understand the reading passage.'”
6. Allendale Elementary School in Orchard Park near Buffalo had 87 percent of students opt out. But at least one writer in the Buffalo area is not happy with opt-out. An op-ed piece in the Buffalo News charged, “The opt-out movement is based less on serious objections to how state tests are crafted and implemented than it is on politics and obstinacy. Kids and schools pay the price for the terrible decisions made by adults who should know better.” The article praised the “diligent efforts of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who appealed to parents to take note of the changes made in response to complaints about the questions asked, the time allotted, the link to teacher evaluations, the lack of teacher input and more.”
7. Connecticut parents are also joining the opt-out movement. At at Trinity College in Hartford, a group of largely Black and Latino parents shared stories about opting their children out of state exams. Most complained about lost instructional time and excessive test prep.
* In case you didn’t know, fastness refers to a secure refuge, especially a place well protected by natural features, as in a remote Himalayan mountain fastness. It is a place that is difficult to get to and easy to defend. It can also mean a fortified stronghold. I looked it up on the Internet, which is not permitted on the tests.
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