It's an anti-testing tsunami.
Thousands of families across the Empire State said no to standardized testing, boycotting the state-mandated English Language Arts exams which began Tuesday.
While accurate figures were hard to come by, testing opponents, parents groups, and school officials from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, to Buffalo all agreed the number is likely to far exceed the 60,000 students who refused to take the test last year.
“From what I’m hearing from other superintendents, it could be at least 300,000 students across the state that opted out,” said William Cala, superintendent of Fairport Central School District near Rochester.
Rachel Cohen, mother of a fifth-grader at Public School 261, said she thinks at least 66% of the 817 students in her Boerum Hill school refused to take the English Language Arts test — the first of the exams administered to third-through eighth-graders across New York State this week.
“Essentially I see no diagnostic educational benefit to my child,” she said. “I see no compelling evidence this is a fair and accurate way to assess children or teachers. All this emphasis on testing actually interferes with meaningful learning and assessment.”
Other parents whose kids opted-out echoed Cohen’s complaints that teachers are being forced to “teach to the test” to preserve their jobs — and their kids were being short-changed as a result.
“We’re not against assessment, we believe in meaningful assessment,” said Jody Alperin, whose children are in the second and fifth grade at PS 10 in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. “Test results should not be punitive.”
Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education, said it will be several days before they know just how many public school students balked at taking the tests.
“We collect opt-out data (as we do every year) by tabulating what is bubbled on the students’ answer sheets during the test administration,” Kaye said. “For this reason, we do not have figures until after the test administration is completed, including makeup test dates.”
About 1.1 million students statewide were eligible to take the exams. The ELA exams run through Thursday and the math tests are next week.
Chris Cerrone, of United Opt Out, which has been leading the charge against the testing, agreed it will take some time before they get a true picture of how widespread the boycott was.
“The numbers are still coming in,” he said.
But reports of large numbers of students boycotting the tests were pouring in from public schools across the state.
Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, refused to allow two of his kids to take the test. He estimated some 100,000 parents did the same statewide.
Further north in the Lower Hudson valley, school officials reported that a quarter of all students in third through eighth grade ditched the test.
Up in the Buffalo suburbs, the superintendent of West Seneca School District reported 2,074 out of 2,976 students — nearly 70% — refused to take the test.
“Last year, we had 30% who refused to take the test,” said Mark Crawford, whose district has five elementary schools and two middle schools. “So it was a surprise to me.”
In the nearby Lake Shore School District, Superintendent James Przepasniak said half of their 1,000-plus students opted out.
“I am not surprised,” he told The Buffalo News. “I believe that the parents groups, the teachers groups have been communicating to parents through many means and I think our parents are more aware of the options they have.”
Gov. Cuomo, a strong supporter of the standardized exams, declined to comment on the apparent anti-testing movement sweeping the state.
But parents like Michele Greeley, 44, of Staten Island, said the anti-testing sentiment is not widespread at her kids’ school — and the state needs some way to measure teacher and student performance.
“I had to take tests when I was in school,” said Greeley, who has kids in the fourth and fifth grades at PS 8 in Staten Island.
“I want to make sure they are learning. It didn’t even cross my mind to opt out. Every parent is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t really know anyone who opted out here.”
Critics, however, say the tests are a poor measure of academic achievement and rob students of valuable school time.
This year New York State United Teachers got behind the opt-out movement after the state Legislature passed a law backed strongly by Cuomo that made test scores the basis of tougher evaluation standards intended to kick poor performing teachers out of classrooms.
Widespread boycotts, pro-teacher groups believe, would undermine the credibility of teacher ratings.
There are no penalties for refusing the tests, but in the past relatively few parents chose to have their kids skip the exams.