A flood of last-minute opt-outs at two schools in Schenectady have pushed it into the danger zone in terms of required test participation, but the city school district may escape punishment.
Unlike most other districts in the region, Schenectady had nearly 95 percent of its students take this week’s English Language Arts exam. That’s the minimum percentage required by the U.S. Department of Education.
The two schools considered “failing” by the state posted a participation rate of well over 95 percent. At Hamilton Elementary School, just three students opted out of the test, while at Lincoln Elementary, only one opted out.
In tweets to The Daily Gazette, local parents said they were sick of the Common Core curriculum and felt the tests weren’t a good judge of student ability. They also objected to test results being included in teacher evaluations:
Kristin Antinoro: “b/c my child will not be a pawn for @NYGovCuomo to use against his dedicated teachers! Enough!”
lindalindabobinda: “Develop a curriculum that lets every child learn in his/her own way and at their own pace. Then test at appropriate levels!”
TheOtherSideNY: “opted out my son to protect great teachers in his district from a ridiculous evaluation system.”
School officials are hopeful students will post much better scores on the test this year, possibly showing that changes in instruction at the schools have had an impact. If many students had skipped the test, improvement might have been harder to prove.
But technically, the district has already failed: As a whole, it had about 94 percent participation. The state Education Department offered hope, however, that the district would escape penalty.
“I think in a case where the district is at 5.4 percent [opting out] and the district made an effort to encourage participation, the feds will look at that more kindly,” said state Education Department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie.
She warned that there’s no way to know yet, however, because sanctions against districts will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Those sanctions could include loss of funding, but Beattie said that would only happen in “egregious” cases.
By the numbers
Final opt-out numbers for Common Core-based proficiency tests (testing started Tuesday):
Mohonasen 55% (671 students out of 1,213)
Waterford-Halfmoon 44% (no number given)
Scotia-Glenville 35% (424/1,219)
Canajoharie 35% (149/425)
Mayfield 33% (139/426)
Schalmont 32% (277/865)
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 31% (431/1408)
Gloversville 31% (377/1,220)
Fort Plain 30% (105/344)
Amsterdam 28% (446/1,612)
Cobleskill-Richmondville 27% (225/835)
Johnstown 26% (194/746)
Fonda-Fultonville 26% (172/664)
Schoharie 26% (102/384)
Broadalbin-Perth 23% (181/799)
South Colonie 22% (482/2,190)
Sharon Springs 21% (24/115)
Ballston Spa 20% (380/1,885)
Schuylerville 20% (153/754)
Galway 19% (75/387)
Shenendehowa 18% (866/4,712)
Guilderland 18 % (392/2,210)
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville 16% (54/336)
Albany 15% (597/3,854)
Saratoga 13% (397/2,960)
Northville 12% (25/205)
Niskayuna 11% (205/1,887)
Wheelerville 11% (10/94)
South Glens Falls 11% (157/1,425)
Duanesburg 11% (41/361)
North Colonie 10% (257/2,044)
Schenectady 5% (229/4,414)
Note: The Mechanicville, Middleburgh and Stillwater school districts did not provide their numbers.
Still to be determined is whether districts will be judged on how much of an effort they made to encourage participation.
At Mohonasen, which had the region’s highest opt-out rate at 55 percent, school leaders sent a letter to and called each parent who sent an opt-out letter. By comparison, Scotia-Glenville posted a sample opt-out letter on its website.
Every district handled the situation differently, with no guidance from the state Education Department. There were no rules as to how to opt out, what sort of letter or statement would be accepted and what districts should do with the students while everyone else took the test.
Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said he was certain of one thing.
“By law, I’m not allowed to urge parents to opt out,” he said. But 25 percent of his students still refused to take the test.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that nothing is clear from state or federal education officials. “It’s cloudy at best.”
He added he would have used the test results to improve instruction.
“The data should help teachers better instruct students,” he said. “It helps us modify and tweak programs.”