Schenectady County

BH-BL resolution aims to prevent test opt-out disruptions

In light of test-day “disruption” caused by last-minute opt-outs and confusion over an alternative t

In light of test-day “disruption” caused by last-minute opt-outs and confusion over an alternative test, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school board Tuesday approved a statement supporting state English and math assessments.

The resolution also solidified the board’s support for the use of “alternative academic activities” based on existing curriculum for students whose parents opt them out of the state assessments.

This year those activities took the form of a shorter test developed by the district’s subject area administrators, Superintendent Patrick McGrath said.

District officials had asked parents who planned to opt out of the state assessments to notify the district by late-March, about 10 days before the tests started last week.

Around 45 middle-school parents had provided that notice, but another 50 middle-school students refused the tests on the morning of the assessment, board President John Blowers said.

“It was kind of chaos,” Blowers said of the first test day.

But the resolution — which was amended from a more controversial version — also drew opposition from parents and teachers at a special meeting held Tuesday night.

A line of parents who refused to participate in this year’s state tests said they felt they and their kids were being singled out by the resolution and questioned its purpose.

“A public reprimand of parents who are choosing to opt out and their trouble-making kids . . . that’s how it reads and it offends me,” said Maria Weeks, a parent of third-grade daughters.

Board members argued that, even if they didn’t support everything about the state tests, they were bound to follow state and federal laws that mandate annual testing.

Board member Peter Sawyer suggested the district could put its funding at risk if it allowed the testing environment to deteriorate.

“If we start to not honor these tests we put this district’s funding at risk, and I for one can’t do that,” Sawyer said. “[The resolution] reaffirms that people have the opportunity to opt out . . . and that we appreciate people notifying us so there is no disruption to the school days.”

But just because the board was required to follow state laws doesn’t mean the board is required to go on record in favor of those laws, said board member Will Farmer.

In fact, he pointed out that the board has passed resolutions opposing some state laws like the Gap Elimination Adjustment funding cuts.

“We should not have a resolution that is promoting a broken system,” said Farmer, one of two dissenting votes. “If anything, we should be doing a resolution that says New York state recognizes we have serious [testing] problems and we want those problems fixed.”

The board ultimately tamped down the most contentious parts of the original resolution, which was interpreted by some as a repudiation of parents’ right to refuse the state assessments (a right that has been affirmed by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and new Chancellor Betty Rosa).

The original resolution included claims that testing opt-outs could cause “reputational and cultural damage” to the district, and that “many parents seem to agree that there have been positive signs” of change in state education policy.

The original resolution, which drew opposition from about 10 speakers at the meeting and the district’s teachers’ association, also pointed to the “disruption on testing days” created by last-minute refusals.

An earlier meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon was moved to Tuesday night after parents raised concerns over the limited notice.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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