Elementary- and middle-school students across the state begin taking the new state standardized tests today, except for those whose parents are protesting by keeping their children home.
Support has been growing online for a boycott of the state tests because of a concern that there is too much reliance on testing and that students haven’t been prepared adequately under a new curriculum for what many people expect will be a more difficult test.
The English language arts tests will be taken today, Wednesday and Thursday and are the first to be based on the Common Core curriculum that requires students to read more nonfiction texts, use evidence from readings to support their conclusions and do more critical thinking.
Some parents, such as Jessie Weatherwax of Wynantskill in Rensselaer County, are refusing to let their children take the tests. Weatherwax is among the members of a Facebook group opposing the state’s emphasis on standardized tests in education.
“There is little time for questioning or thinking outside the box or creative thinking. Instead, the kids are doing test prep in school and then being sent home with more test prep,” she said in an email.
She believes the tests are too long — six days of 90-minute testing sessions.
Weatherwax said she will be keeping her daughter home until the tests are concluded each day.
State education officials advise against keeping children home.
There is no provision in state law allowing students to opt out of the test.
“These tests are the only ways that parents and educators and students can have an objective measure of how students are progressing toward mastery of the Common Core standards,” said Ken Wagner, assistant commissioner for policy and strategic planning at the state Education Department.
New York is among the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core curriculum of what students should know by the time they graduate high school in order to be ready for college and careers.
The math curriculum, which will be tested April 24-26, stresses fewer topics but goes more in depth on each one.
Because of the increased difficulty level, state education officials are expecting scores to drop, but they are unsure by how much.
They have cited a similarly difficult exam taken by students, the National Assessment for Educational Progress, on which about 30 percent to 40 percent of New York’s students did not meet the standards.
Wagner likened the tests to a medical checkup and said he is confident that the majority of people want to have an idea of how their children are doing.
Students would only be excused from the test for medical reasons, according to Wagner.
However, Wagner said there are no state policies about how local school districts should handle students who do not come to school.
They may be subject to discipline under the district’s attendance policy.
Shenendehowa Central School District spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani said students would be marked as illegally absent if their parents keep them home from school.
If a child refuses to participate or is absent, the district will enter a code in its report to the state that says the student has “no valid test score,” according to a statement posted to the district’s message board on its website.
However, officials said the district could lose federal Title I funding if less than 95 percent of eligible students take the test. The state could step in and mandate changes at the district.
Scotia-Glenville Central School District spokesman Robert Hanlon said if the school receives a written request from a student’s parent not to take the test, the child would sit in the testing area and read or stay occupied in order to not disrupt classmates.
As of Monday afternoon, the district had received no such requests from parents, according to Hanlon.
There are also built-in makeup tests for students who are sick, according to Hanlon.
The New York State United Teachers union has criticized the state Education Department for going ahead with these tests, claiming that the state hasn’t given districts adequate time to teach the curriculum.
However, it stopped short of calling for parents to boycott the exams.
“Teachers share parents’ frustration with the state’s overemphasis on standardized testing, which is narrowing the curriculum and placing great stress on many students,” said spokesman Carl Korn.
“As an organization, NYSUT neither encourages nor discourages decisions by parents to opt out of state testing. It truly is a parent’s choice based on what they believe is best for their child.”
About 10,000 teachers have written letters to the state Education Department expressing concerns about the testing, Korn said.
Student achievement on state tests accounts for 20 percent of a teacher’s score under the teacher evaluation system.
The union has suggested that this year should not count against teachers, but should be used solely to determine how implementation of the Common Core curriculum is working.
New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert said the organization has not taken a position on this issue of boycotting the test.
Some of its members are concerned that the changes are happening too quickly, but it supports the overall goals of the Common Core.
Wagner of the state Education Department said the tests are necessary to comply with federal education law.
During this transition year, Wagner said the department will not put any new schools on the “needs improvement” list.
State officials have said that they believe it is better for students to struggle now with more difficult tests than to graduate from high school and not be ready for college-level work or a job.
Parents should talk to their children to calm their fears.
“The only tasks for a student in a state assessment is to just do the very best that they can,” Wagner said.