N.Y. changed Common Core tests: Will it satisfy the opt-out movement?

Last year, 1 in every 5 New York students skipped the exams in protest. As another round of tests approach the state's education department says it has addressed concerns.

Carolyn Thompson/AP/File
Students hold signs in favor of opting out of state assessments during a visit by New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to the William Street School in Lancaster, N.Y. New York last year saw the highest rate of opt-outs in the country as parents protested the volume of testing and the high-stakes consequences.

One year after 20 percent of New York students refused to take state-mandated Common Core exams, the state's education commissioner has been trying to convince students, teachers, and parents that this round of testing is different.

Last year the state saw the highest rate of opt-outs in the country – 1 in 5 students refused to participate – as parents protested the amount of testing required by federal law, contending that the tests are excessively stressful and don't depict an accurate representation of students performance. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing estimated that more than 640,000 students in more than a dozen states opted out of the exams, with New York alone accounting for 240,000 opt-outs.

MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, announced that one of the biggest changes would be abandoning the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers' performances. The state has placed a four-year moratorium on the practice, while it works on new methods to evaluate both students and teachers. The state also has shortened both English assessments that will be conducted over three days this week, and the math assessments that will be administered April 13-15. At least one reading passage and math word problem have been removed, the commissioner said.

"Some people, when they get the information, may change their mind. Some people may not," said Ms. Elia, who took over the education department in July. "I'm accepting the fact that the most important thing we can do right now is provide information on the major changes that I think have been made and work to really get the trust back from parents and teachers and administrators across the state."

In January, the New York State Education Department announced that third- through eighth-grade students will no longer be timed during testing, drawing criticism from some school officials who have framed the practice of timing as necessary for evaluating students performance.

"I don't even know how you administer a test like that," Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy network of charter schools, whose schools have been praised for their high test scores, told The New York Times. She defended the assessements as a way "to determine what a student knows and is able to do" in a reasonable amount of time.

But proponents of the state's opt-out movement aren't convinced that the changes are enough to address their concerns, and hoping that more participants will join their opposition to the tests.

"As a mom and as a teacher, I can say at this point that until I know more, my kids will not be taking the state assessments," Christine Gust, a parent and teacher, who wanted to know how state assessments would influence teacher evaluations once the moratorium ended, told the Associated Press.

This report contains.materials from the Associated Press.

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