Half of Oceanside students opt out


About half of all eligible third- through eighth-grade students in the Oceanside School District — 50.2 percent — did not sit for the state English Language Arts Common Core tests last week, a slight increase from last year, when 49.3 percent skipped the exams.

Island Park school officials said that the district would not release its opt-out numbers until the state math test is held next month. In 2016, 46 percent of all eligible students opted out of the ELA exam.

Parents of children in both districts were vocal on social media about keeping their children out of the tests, most complaining that they are too long and difficult for their grade levels, causing undue stress for their children. Some also claimed, erroneously, that teachers were being evaluated based on test results.

The state mandates that districts administer the tests, but bars schools from using the results as a primary evaluation of students’ progress. Additionally, test results do not factor into teacher evaluations, according to the State Education Department.

Island Park parent Danielle Flaniken, who has one child in the Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School and another in the Lincoln Orens Middle School, told the Herald that she views the Common Core tests and curricular guidelines as a “one-size-fits-all” education that favors fast learners at the expense of slower ones.

“I have a daughter in sixth grade,” Flaniken said. “… [T]hey might not be testing on the sixth-grade level; they might be testing her on the eighth-grade level.”

In December 2015, the New York Board of Regents passed a moratorium that suspended the use of student test scores in teacher performance reviews for four years.

Flaniken said she did not foresee a way that the state could make the testing palatable to her. “Children need to learn to take tests,” she acknowledged. “But you need to test fairly.” She added that she hoped that if enough parents opt their children out, the state would be forced to take radical action. “One day we’ll have our voices heard,” she said.

“I am completely confident that all of our students were well prepared to take these assessments,” Oceanside Schools Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington said. “But given the issues around them over the last couple of years, we’ve allowed parents options.”

Parents who decided to keep their children out of the tests were asked to submit letters saying so. But so many parents have a negative view of the exams, Harrington said, that the entire testing system would likely have to be revamped.

Students who did not take the tests were asked to bring reading material, and sat in an area separate from the test takers.

“Parents should make a decision based on what they believe is appropriate for their children,” Island Park Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino said in a statement. “They shouldn’t feel compelled to compare or compromise their belief based on rising or declining opt-out numbers.”

Bovino noted that state tests can provide schools with valuable information that can help them adapt instruction more closely tailored to students’ needs. She also acknowledged that a single test should not be the determining factor for student placement in support services, and added that she did not believe state test results should be used for teacher or principal evaluation.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who is cosponsoring legislation to support parents’ right to opt their children out and to block attempts to punish schools with high opt-out rates, said he would continue advocating for parents. “I continue to hear from parents and teachers who still believe that the state standardized tests were created without real input from educators, turn school days into endless test prep sessions and punish students with special needs,” Kaminsky said in a statement.

Dr. William Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre School District and a high-profile figure in the Long Island opt-out movement, said he sees promise in computerized adaptive electronic testing, which becomes more difficult as a student answers questions correctly.

But he expressed disappointment when he found out that the state’s new computer-based tests, which some local students took this year, were merely electronic versions of the pen-and-paper ELA tests. “I think down the road, ultimately, [states] are going to be forced to change the formatting of the exam because of the way technology is teaching us about how tests can be given,” Johnson said.

Harrington also touted the potential of adaptive testing. “Adaptive electronic tests would be great,” she said, noting that they would have to meet federal education requirements. The district currently has a number of alternative assessment methods for English and math, she said.

“Do I think adaptive tests are the way of the future?” said Sandie Schoell, vice president of the Oceanside Board of Education. “I tend to think so.” But the rollout should be appropriate, she said, referring to the botched implementation of the state’s computer-based ELA testing in Franklin Square, where seven third-graders were erroneously given the fourth-grade test.

“If you have the right curriculum and administer the right kinds of tests,” she concluded, “the kids will soar.”