Some local schools see little change in opt-out rates

Some local school districts saw only a small change in the number of students opting out of state-mandated exams this year.

While a few districts had more students take the English and math exams than in 2015, other districts saw slight declines in participation.

The exams, which were given earlier this month, test English language arts and math proficiency for students in grades 3 through 8. Parents can opt their child out of taking the exams and students themselves can refuse to take the tests without penalty.

In 2015, a state average of 20 percent of students chose to opt out of the ELA and math exams. Local opt-out rates were even higher, with opt-outs for the math exams reaching 44 percent in Gloversville, 41 percent for Mayfield, 33.5 percent for Fonda-Fultonville and 32 percent for Broadalbin-Perth.

In the Gloversville Enlarged School District, the middle school saw an increase in the number of students opting out of taking the tests, officials said. Overall, the district saw an increase in opt outs for both tests.

For example, with the ELA exam, Gloversville had an opt-out rate of 34 percent this year; in 2015, the opt out rate was 31 percent.

Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo said the district had better participation from elementary pupils than it did from middle school students in 2016.

“We need to be respectful that there’s not just a movement in Gloversville, but it’s everywhere,” Vanyo said. “People are concerned about the testing and we can obviously see that. We just know that with the testing there are a lot of things that we can use to help our kids.”

James Wager, Gloversville’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction, said for the ELA portion, the district saw increased participation in third- and fifth-grade, with drops in participation in sixth- and eighth-grades.

Vanyo said the number of sixth- through eighth-grade students opting out concerns him, since these same students won’t have the option of noting taking the Regents exams when they become high school freshman.

“I think part of it is middle school kids are little bit older. Maybe they are maybe a little bit more involved in the decision [to opt out,]” Vanyo said.

In the Mayfield Central School Distinct, 17 percent of students opted out of taking the English language arts portion of the exams, a notable decrease compared to the roughly 34 percent who opted out in 2015.

Mayfield Superintendent Jon Peterson said the district saw a similar decline in the percentage of students who opted out of the math portion.

“We’re pretty pleased with the numbers,” he said.

Peterson said he believes changes made to the tests this year may be behind more parents opting to have their children take the exams. Those changes included cutting the number of questions and eliminating the time limits.

“I think it’s tremendous Albany listened,” Peterson said.

Peterson said there also wasn’t a community-wide opt-out push like there had been the previous year. He only saw a few signs encouraging students to opt out of the exams this year, and wasn’t aware of any mass phone calls or emails encouraging parents to say no to the tests.

Peterson said the district did not do a big push to get students into seats for testing. He said the schools sent out email reminders for children to get plenty of sleep and have breakfast before coming in for the tests.

Vanyo said taking the time limit out benefited students, as did reducing the number of questions on the exams.

However, he said the state should look at cutting down on the number of testing days and commit to listening to what parental groups are saying about the tests.

Vanyo said. “Cutting down [testing] is going to be important, I think, with the number of days that we [already] test.”

Sara Niccoli, the Palatine supervisor and a state Senate candidate, said her daughter did not take the exams in 2015 and ’16.

“As a parent, I see first-hand how high-stakes Common Core testing stymies our children’s natural curiosity and love of learning. When faced with double periods of Common Core ELA and math classes and endless homework in order to prepare for the tests, my daughter’s love of school turned into tearful pleas to stay home. Parents throughout New York State have been forced to make hard decisions about whether to refuse the tests because politicians in Albany failed to fix the problems,” Niccoli said in a statement.

In the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, 146 students opted out of ELA exams in 2016 – leading to a 22 percent opt-out rate, a decrease from the 175 students – 26 percent – who opted out last year. For math, 172 students, or about 26 percent opted out of taking the test, a decrease from the 33.5 percent who opted out in 2015.

In the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, opt outs for the ELA portion went up slightly, from 24 percent in 2015 to 25.4 percent in 2016. The opt-out rate for the math exam decreased, from 32 percent in 2015 to 29 percent this year.

The Greater Johnstown School District had roughly a 19.7 percent opt-out rate for ELA, a decrease from the 26 percent who opted out in 2015, according to information from the district. The district saw about a 21 percent opt-out rate for math, a decrease from the 32 percent in 2015.

The Northville School District saw roughly 9 percent of students opt out of taking the ELA exams and about 16 percent opting out of math, according to information provided by the district.

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