While more students across New York sat for the state’s grades three to eight English and math tests last spring, fewer Long Beach District students took the tests, according to data released last week by the State Education Department.
The growing “opt-out” movement was born six years ago when the standardized ELA and math exams were first implemented. Ever since, parents have complained about the lack of value and the difficulty of the exams. The state recently revamped and renamed the Common Core standards, and now calls them Next Generation Learning Standards. But many continue to speak out against the curriculum, saying that the material and exams are not developmentally appropriate for students and do not adequately assess teacher performance.
According to the Education Department, about 48 percent of test-eligible students in Long Beach opted out of the English Language Arts exams last spring, up from 45.8 percent in 2017. A little less than half of students opted out of the math exams.
School board President Dr. Dennis Ryan said that while he believes testing is an essential part of public education because it allows educators and administrators to compare student performance among districts, he disagrees with the rollout of the exams.
“I think the state could certainly do a better job in terms of packaging the test so that so much time isn’t spent on preparing for the test and actually taking the test,” Ryan said. “I think the state has to do a better job of producing a better test that’s not as intrusive, doesn’t take as much time and doesn’t demand so much test prep as the present tests do.”
Last year, in response to backlash from educators who complained about losing valuable instruction days to lessons in which they “teach to the test,” the State Education Department reduced the number of testing days from three to two.
Statewide, 18 percent of students in grades three through eight chose not to take the exams last spring, which was down one percentage point since 2017 and three percentage points since 2016. Long Island remains the area with the highest number of test refusals in New York for the ELA and math tests, according to the Education Department.
The department “says they’re working on it, and every year they say they’re going to hold a better test, but so far, I think their product has been less than satisfactory,” Ryan said.
“The data that comes to us through assessments is a really critical tool,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement. “Assessments are a really important tool to know how well students are doing. We had over 950,000 students across the state of New York take an assessment that gave us pieces of information, and it tells us how well a district or a school is doing.”
About 61 percent of Long Beach students in grade three scored at the proficient level or better on the ELA exam, while 64 percent did the same on the math exam. At the same time, about 44 percent of students in grade eight scored at the proficient level or better on the ELA exam, while 2 percent did the same on the math exam. A portion of the eighth-grade class chose to participate in the high school math Regents Exam instead of the New Generation math test, a trend seen in other school districts.
Because the format of the most recent exams does not match that of the previous year, State Education Department officials said, the results for the two tests are not comparable.
“You always want greater proficiency levels and to maximize student performance,” Ryan said of the results.
He added that it’s difficult for teachers to use the test results in a meaningful way, such as reviewing questions with students, because they do not receive them until the next school year.
Many people have also addressed concerns about linking test scores to teacher evaluations. While the state issued a moratorium on connecting the two, it is set to expire next summer.
“I don’t feel that the evaluations should be based on standardized testing,” Ryan said.
“I think the de-linking is going to happen,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said. “I think we could do a lot better while still tracking the progress of our students. We have to involve teachers, administrators and parents in the actual legislation, in the planning, and they have to have real buy-in. They have to believe that the tests matter to the students.”
“Some will say education is an art, and you just can’t bring it down to a . . . number, or to a score, that there’s more there than just a score, and somehow capturing all that ‘more’ is the duty of teachers and educators to get beyond the one number in terms of what it means,” Ryan said.
Representatives of the Long Beach Central Council Parent Teacher Association declined to comment on the exam results and opt-out movement. Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Ideally, we want more kids to participate,” Ryan said, “but the state has got to do a better job of rolling out the tests.”