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Some districts see high numbers of opt-outs

Posted at 6:53 PM, Apr 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 18:53:05-04

High numbers of students have been opting out of taking third through eighth grade math and ELA exams.

In West Seneca, one of the school districts that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited recently, saw 71-percent of its students opt-out of state tests.

East Aurora had a 38-percent opt-out rate, down by 10-percent from last year. That number was 49-percent in Lancaster, which is up from 44-percent last year. In Depew, 47-percent of students opted out, down from 50-percent last year.

Jackie Hicks is one of the parents opting children out of state testing.

"The readability of the questions and passages of the questions are not appropriate grade levels are not at appropriate grade levels developmentally," Hicks said. "I don't want to set my children up for failure."

Jackie is also a third grade teacher at Allendale Elementary in West Seneca, where State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia recently visited to promote changes in state testing.

She said that parents have three big concerns: not receiving enough information about test results to help children improve, questions meant for higher grade levels and the percentage of teacher evaluations based on how students perform on assessments.

"Making it that high stake only makes children nervous and teachers nervous," Hicks said. "My own child in my classroom today, when they were going off to take the test asked if I would be fired if they didn't do well."

The state has changed the evaluation portion for future years. According to school officials, in future years state math and ELA tests will not play a factor in teacher's evaluations.

However, according to Dr. Mark Crawford, the West Seneca Central Schools Superintendent, districts now have to find other testing that will make-up 50-percent of a teacher's evaluation.

Crawford adds that changing the percentage that assessments impact teacher evaluation is not up to the Education Department, but could only be changed by the State Legislature.

West Seneca Schools also had a 71% opt-out last year, and Crawford said he empathizes with parents.

However, he also believes that number could go down in future years.

"I hope that the Board of Regents and the commissioner, together with school districts and our parents will come to some great agreement in the next couple of years so that this is no longer an issue," Crawford said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said that opting out is a "national issue," and not just a New York issue.

Jeanne Beattie with the State Education Department released a statement saying:

"The decision of whether a student should take the State assessments is ultimately for that student's parent or parents to make. But we want to be certain that everyone has all of  the information they need to make an informed decision. So the Commissioner is going to continue to speak with parents, teachers, students and the public to explain the improvements we've made to the state assessments and the importance of these tests in helping educators to plan for the coming school year and to develop individualized learning plans for students."