Hewlett-Woodmere, Lawrence school districts split on use of the state tests

Exam opt-outs remain high on Long Island

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Across Long Island state opt-out percentages for the English Language Arts and math exams surpassed the state average as both Nassau and Suffolk counties continue to be ground zero for the test boycott.

A majority of Long Island school districts had at least 50 percent of their student population not take the two state exams last spring. Statewide only 18 percent of students opted out, according to the New York State Education Department.

In the Five Towns there is a distinct split between the Hewlett-Woodmere and Lawrence districts. The opt-out rate declined in Lawrence, while the numbers reflect a consistency hovering around 60 percent for Hewlett-Woodmere.The latest opt-out figures for Lawrence are 23 percent for the ELA test and 22 percent for the math exam. In 2017, the district’s overall opt-out rate was 31.15 percent and 26.4 percent in 2016.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that Lawrence district makes it a point to explain to parents on what she called “the usefulness of the data from the tests.” “We learn from these summarize tests and also from formative tests given during the year,” she said. “We have been able to use reading levels, known as lexile levels, to adjust reading materials for learners and monitor their progress against expected growth.” Pedersen said that with math it is more difficult to gather data officials can use to correct student problems because the tests are less predictable.  

Lawrence students appear to be scoring better on the state exams, especially in the third grade where 43 percent of the students who took the ELA test met or exceeded proficiency standards. In math, for third graders it was 42 percent. In ELA, 53 percent of the then fourth-graders met or exceeded the proficiency standards. However, only 5 percent of the seventh-graders who took the math test met the standard.

Hewlett-Woodmere students scored exceptionally higher but the district uses what is called the Northwest Evaluation Association Measure of Academic Progress. The Portland, Oregon-based organization uses research to create what it calls “assessment solutions” that measure student growth and academic skills.

District third-graders scored 89 percent in meeting or exceeding proficiency standards in ELA and the lowest rate was 57 percent by the fifth-graders. The opt-out rate was 62 percent. In math, the highest proficiency standard rate was 74 percent in fourth grade and the lowest was 6 percent of the eighth-graders who took the test. The opt-out rate was 60 percent.

Mark Secaur, Hewlett-Woodmere’s deputy superintendent, said that the NWEA measure of academic progress is used “to provide diagnostic information on each student, so that we can better meet their individuals needs. The students do not receive grades [through the evaluation], and the assessment plays no role in teacher evaluations.”

He said that the school district is aware that parents have concerns relating to the state exams, adding the district does not do anything to increase the numbers of students taking the state tests. “We do emphasize that assessment is necessary, and has a place in our educational programs, but we respect the decisions our parents make related to state testing,” Secaur said.

Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association President Ric Stark, who teaches Advanced Placement physics, said that he believes the community and Board of Education wants the best education for the children. “Test scores aren’t taken to mean anything more than they are a brief snapshot of how a student took one test over two days,” he said.  “Our teachers in the test-giving grades are encouraged to be creative and to worry about far more important things than scores.”

Have an opinion about opting out or the state exams Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.