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State Exam Opt-Out Numbers Vary In Westchester

Students in grades three through eight must take state exams in English Language Arts and math.
Students in grades three through eight must take state exams in English Language Arts and math. Photo Credit: Flickr User Isaiah12:2

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The number of students opting out of the English Language Arts exams this week hit double digits in a few Westchester school districts, while most said only a few refused to take the tests.

The exams for grades three through eight state were made more rigorous last year to align with the Common Core Learning Standards, and only 30 percent of students scoring as proficient.

This year, some parents decided to opt out of the tests, including 84 in the Lakeland Central School District and 80 in the Ossining School District. The two account for the most in the county.

"It's the largest number we've received at any time we've administered state assessments," Ossining Schools Superintendent Ray Sanchez said. "A lot gave advance notice, some did it the day of."

Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman said three opted out of exams across five buildings. One Bedford parent said her two kids at the middle school and two at Pound Ridge Elementary School all opted out and that she knew of at least four others who opted out Tuesday.

Mary Ann Donahoe Serlin said her child is refusing the test this year because he experienced too much anxiety last year at Central Elementary School in Mamaroneck. He now attends Pleasantville Middle School, where he is reading in the guidance office instead of taking the tests this week.

"Not going to put him through that if these tests having no bearing on his educational record," she said.

The ELA and math tests no longer count toward students' records thanks to the recently adopted state budget. The tests are, however, still used in evaluating teachers.

"I find it disappointing that so much of what they have decided to put in place is either common sense or not necessary to be in law, specifically the part about whether the scores should go on transcripts or count," Hochman said. "They keep moving the target on what proficiency means anyway."

Lakeland Schools Superintendent George Stone said his district has "never used (state exams) in the form of record keeping or grading or anything like that."

Stone and Sanchez both said parents have the right to refuse the tests.

But, it puts their schools in danger of not meeting the federal requirement under No Child Left Behind to test 95 percent of its students, which would mean they wouldn't make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The goal of AYP is that all students become proficient in reading and math by 2014, as measured by performance on state tests.

"We don't know at this point what the state will do given the number of refusals across the state," Stone said.

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