BURNT HILLS — Eighth-graders in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District who take the annual state math exam this week will be exempt from a portion of their local math finals next month.
Their classmates who opt-out of this week’s state tests, however, will be expected to take the entire local final.
District and school officials and eighth-grade math teachers agreed in the past month that the state and local tests were similar enough that it would be redundant to make students take both tests, Burnt Hills Superintendent Patrick McGrath said Tuesday.
“We don’t want to be all about over-testing and over-testing,” he said. “We are trying to reassure people the exam you take as a state exam is pretty darn close to what you take as a local exam … We aren’t going to make you do the same thing over again.”
The students will essentially be credited for participating on the state tests this week because the district won’t receive student scores prior to the June 21 local final. Even if the district did have the student scores, under state law scores on the state test cannot be used in calculating their local grades.
All eighth-graders will be required to take the first part of the final, which will cover material taught in the coming weeks as well as some cumulative material taught throughout the year. But a second part of the final covering material similar to that on the state test will only be given to students who didn’t participate on the state exams.
McGrath said the students exempted from the second half of the final will receive a grade on the final exam based on how they score on the first part of it; the students who didn’t participate in the state tests this week will receive a grade on the local final based on how they score on the two sections combined.
McGrath said the district is also trying to get eighth-graders to start taking state tests more seriously, highlighting that in ninth grade the students will be taking the Regents Algebra exam – a state test that must be passed for a student to graduate.
Some district parents who have opposed the state tests saw the local final exemption as a way of punishing families who refuse to take the state tests.
Will Farmer, parent of a high school freshman and a former school board member critical of state testing, on Monday said he was troubled by the plan to exempt students from the local final.
“My problem is they are pushing these tests on kids and using them in place of a local exam,” Farmer said. “If you are a kid, you will say I would rather take the state tests than take a final, and the state state tests don’t count to their grade at all.”
He said district officials were free to encourage students and families to participate on the tests and explain how they are used, but he thinks the approach for the math tests this year is punitive to families who object to the state tests. Many parents opposed to the state tests argue that they are still linked to education standards that grew out of the Common Core, which have since been updated by state officials. He also questioned why district officials would favor a state test over one developed by their own teachers.
“Administration can encourage kids to take state tests, but they should not be punishing kids for not taking the test no matter what their valid reason is,” he said.
Exempting students from part of the local final may have boosted participation on the math tests beginning Tuesday. McGrath said 17 eighth-graders opted out of the math tests Tuesday, down from over 40 students who refused the ELA tests last month. The district reported an overall opt-out rate of 9 percent on Tuesday’s math tests, down from nearly 18 percent last year.
McGrath said this is the first time the district has exempted students from a local test because they participated on the state tests. He said district staff are not doing the same thing for last month’s English Language Arts tests.