Nassau County parents continued to show some of the highest levels of opposition to federally mandated state testing in English Language Arts and mathematics, according to figures released by the New York State Education Department on Sept. 26. Even among Nassau school districts, whose opt-out rates routinely topped 50 percent, the Levittown, Seaford and Wantagh districts stood out as among the highest in the state.
Some 66.5 percent of Levittown and Wantagh students opted out of the Regents testing in English Language Arts for grades 3 to 8, while 67.5 percent of students sat the tests out in Seaford. Rates were even higher for the mathematics tests: 78.5 percent of students opted out in Wantagh, compared with 80.7 percent in Seaford and 86.9 percent in Levittown. The final rates were considerably higher than reported immediately after the tests were administered in April, when opt-out rates for the two tests in the three districts were variously reported as from 50 to 60 percent.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia noted that statewide opt-out rates declined by 1 percent from last year, a result she viewed as positive. Although the change might seem insignificant, it translated to several thousand more students taking the tests, she said last Wednesday.
Jeanette Deutermann, a leader in the Long Island Opt-Out movement, said she believed Elia was “missing the mark.” The North Bellmore parent described the current format as “a broken testing system.”
Parents have complained that the exams are poorly designed and do not benefit students. “The State Education Department doesn’t have it right,” New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango wrote on the organization’s website after the results were released. “These standardized tests continue to mislabel and harm students and their local schools. In many instances, they
are not developmentally appropriate,” she added.
“The system must change,” DiBrango wrote. “Students and teachers deserve better than this.
One parent pointed to the ways test scores could be raised “without providing students with a better education.” Teachers could drill to the test preparation; take at-risk students out of electives and place them in test-related classes; and have teachers “teach to the test,” Rosemary Garofolo wrote on Long Island Opt-Out’s Facebook page. “Do you want higher test scored or better education, because those are two unrelated things,” she wrote.
Parents and educators also object to the way test scores are used in evaluating teachers and complain that the two-day testing is tiring. In some cases, students reported spending as long as five hours to complete what was billed as a 90-minute test. “These tests gauge little more than how long students can sit in their seats and endure them, which is why so many called the tests abusive,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in May, after the completion of this year’s testing. He added that “the tests remain … frustrating for our students and don’t provide meaningful information to parents and educators.”
This year, the State Legislature addressed the issue of teacher evaluations in Senate Bill S.8301 and its Assembly counterpart, A.10475. The measure would eliminate the use of test scores as a component in evaluations. The bill passed the Senate at the close of the most recent session and will go to a conference committee to harmonize Senate and Assembly versions before being presented to the governor.
Neither Seaford nor Wantagh officials responded to requests for comment by press time.
Levittown Public Schools Media Relations Associate Michael Ganci said in a statement that “ We provide parents with the most up-to-date information related to changes in the [New York State] testing system, so that parents can make the best decisions for their children.“ Asked about different proposals for improving student participation, the district had no comment.