When New York state debuted new standardized tests for third- to eighth-graders in English and math last year, a handful of Merrick parents told school administrators they believed the tests would do more harm than good, and they would not allow their children to take them. Earlier this month, the number of students whose parents have joined this protest nearly doubled at Merrick Avenue Middle School, more than doubled in the North Merrick School District and more than tripled in the Merrick School District.
Students across the state sat for English Language Arts exams in the first week of April. According to the state Education Department, the tests are based on the Common Core State Standards — broad changes to school curricula that the Obama administration has pushed and most states have adopted in recent years.
Though the tests are mandatory, a growing number of parents on Long Island are choosing to have their children “opt-out” from taking them by sending refusal letters to teachers and school administrators. These parents have argued at school board meetings, education forums and in traditional and social media that the tests represent bad educational policy and are detrimental to their children’s psychological, emotional and developmental well being.
According to a document posted on the Facebook page Long Island Opt-out Info, a total of 20,042 students across Long Island did not take the ELA tests, at their parents’ direction. The group has almost 17,000 members.
Superintendent Dr. Dominick Palma said that 90 students in the Merrick School District sat out the ELA exams. In North Merrick, Superintendent David Feller reported, 65 sat out. And Susan Schwartz, president of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District school board, said that 91 did so at Merrick Avenue Middle School. Last year, those numbers were 25, 25 and 53, respectively.
“From what I hear, they’re being tested at above grade level,” said Lisa Katz, a North Merrick parent who helped organize a community forum on educational policy in Merrick earlier this year. “As far as the numbers, I don’t know what will make the Education Department or governor listen.”