Principals Continue to Spread Misinformation about Opting Out

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Principals Continue to Spread Misinformation about Opting Out of State Tests Despite DOE Directive to Respect Parents’ Decision

New York City – Parents across the city are refusing to let their children take the annual state English Language Arts (ELA) and math tests administered to third through eighth graders, but some principals are standing in their way. Warning that opting out of the tests is either not allowed or will result in negative consequences – for the student, teachers or school – principals have left parents frustrated, fearful and confused about their rights. Although a parent guide released by the Department of Education (DOE) states, “If, after consulting with the principal, the parents still want to opt their child out of the exams, the principal should respect the parents’ decision and let them know that the school will work to the best of their ability to provide the child with an alternate educational activity (e.g., reading) during testing times,” some principals are either unaware of the policy or have decided to ignore it.

In emails and Facebook posts, at community forums and on parent list servs, countless parents across all five boroughs report that principals have told them that if their children don’t take the tests, the students will not be promoted, will have to attend summer school or will have to take an alternative exam. Parents report being warned that teachers’ evaluations will suffer if kids do not take the tests. Numerous superintendents, principals and teachers have told parents that schools will be harmed or will lose funding if too many students opt out.

None of these threats or warnings are sanctioned by the DOE and many are, in fact, contradicted by written DOE policy. Further, there is not a shred of evidence that teacher evaluations are adversely affected by opt outs. As for schools, there have been no negative repercussions for any New York schools with high test refusal rates, including those that receive Title I funds. Even state education officials acknowledge that it would take several years of large numbers of students opting out before a school could face corrective action and even then, no school would lose funding.

Frank Giordano, principal of New Voices School of Academic and Creative Arts, a Brooklyn middle school, decided to take a hard line against opting out. In a March 3rd email to parents, Principal Giordano wrote, “There is no opting out of any State Exams. These exams are required to be administered by the State Department of Education. While some schools in the city have allowed this to occur, opting out of these exams has not been sanctioned by the NYC DOE nor the Chancellor.”

When Anna Van Lenten, a parent of a 6th grader at the school, shared language from the DOE parent guide with Principal Giordano, he responded, “I am aware of the guide” and made it clear he had no intention of accommodating non-testing students. Ms. Van Lenten found his position confusing. “Frank is a devoted educator, and candid about not agreeing with the current substance and mode of administering state tests. So it is all the more surprising that he refuses to abide by the recommendation of DOE guidelines to allow opt out students to read during the tests. Instead he says they must sit in the same room as the test takers and do nothing for the duration of the two weeks of testing! Opt out students should be allowed to read or be sent to lower grades to assist in understaffed classrooms.”

Dr. Rosalina Diaz, another parent at New Voices and former co-president of the District 15 Community Education Council was outraged at the prospect of her daughter being forced to sit with nothing to do during long hours of testing. “My daughter is a child with amazing talent, intellect and holistic gifts that cannot be measured by any standardized exam, but she is also a child with special needs. She has Central Auditory Processing Disorder, a condition that often makes it difficult for her to process data and filter sensory input. Because the principal has decided that he is unwilling to provide alternative accommodations for my daughter while the other students are testing, she will have to sit and stare for 6 to 9 hours of testing over six days. This action can be understood as nothing less than abuse.”

Principal Giordano’s insistence that students can’t opt out – when he cannot, in fact, force a student to take a test – and his threatening students with sit-and-stare are unfortunately typical of the many reports we are receiving at Change the Stakes. Parents notifying principals of their decision to refuse the tests are confronting intimidation and widespread misinformation, yet most feel they have nowhere to turn. Although the DOE’s parent guide can help parents who have access to do it, principals are not required to distribute it and the document is difficult to locate online. Even when parents have the information, some still confront recalcitrant administrators. The DOE has offered no remedy to parents other than to contact their superintendents, some of whom are spreading the same misinformation as the principals they oversee. Most parents have never met their district superintendent and don’t even know who the superintendent is.

Parents have been left in an untenable situation by an education department that professes to support them but has been cowed by bruising battles with Governor Cuomo. Chancellor Fariña has sent mixed messages to educators, stating that testing should not dictate what happens in the classroom while supporting the use of test scores for up to 35 percent of teacher evaluations. Although her department has acknowledged that parents have the right to refuse the tests, it has done nothing to ensure that parents have access to this information. Nor has the chancellor publicly affirmed that the decision of families to refuse the state tests should be respected.

Reflecting on Principal Giordano’s insistence that non-testing children sit and do nothing, potentially distracting children who are taking the tests, Dr. Diaz, the New Voices parent, said that his approach should be “understood as a punitive action against those who would stand against him and assert their rights as parents to decide what is best for the well-being of their own children.” Many other parents expressed similar sentiments to Change the Stakes but did not want to risk being named or to name their school for fear of subjecting their child to retaliation.

Despite fear, confusion and uncertainty, NYC parents are fighting back. Hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, will refuse to let their children take the state tests as an estimated 60,000 parents statewide did a year ago. As long as politicians continue to put private interests before those of public school children, prioritize corporate profits over the judgment of professional educators, and use teachers as scapegoats to distract from their failure to address growing poverty and widespread inequality, parents will continue to use the primary leverage we have – we will refuse the state tests.

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 Change the Stakes (changethestakes.org), a group of New York City parents and educators, promotes alternatives to high stakes-testing.

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One response to “Principals Continue to Spread Misinformation about Opting Out

  1. Pingback: NYC: Opt Out Is Allowed, Wiyth No Negative Consequences | Diane Ravitch's blog·

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