If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. That’s a rule many live by, but it rings especially true in our schools.
That’s New York City father Jean Holybrice explaining why his children are participating in annual state assessments in language arts and math. Data on participation rates in NY’s annual state assessments are just starting to roll in but early indications are that more parents than last year share Mr. Holybrice’s sentiments.
That’s bad news for anti-testing lobbyists like leaders of the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) and New York Allies for Public Education but good news for those who value accountability, transparency, and meaningful information on school quality. Despite ample resources devoted to opt-out propaganda by NYSUT (the union purchased the billboards and lawn signs for New York State Allies for Education), indications are that 2017 opt-out rates, with a few exceptions, are trending downward.
From the Poughkeepsie Journal:
Executive Director Steve Sigmund of High Achievement New York, a coalition of groups including various business organizations that support the Common Core, said: “Day one reports show a continued trend against opt outs and towards even greater participation, and that’s good for students and for New York’s future. These assessments provide an annual check-up for students, identify achievement gaps so they can be closed, and have gotten better through listening to the concerns of parents and educators.”
And Chalkbeat reports,
The number of families refusing to take the controversial tests seems to have decreased slightly in Rochester, the Hudson Valley, Buffalo and Albany. In Long Island, typically an opt-out hotbed, the rates thus far seem similar to last year. It’s still too soon to tell in New York City, but the number of families refusing to take tests has been traditionally been much lower in the city than in the rest of the state.
A few examples: According to data collected by High Achievement New York, in 2016 25% of students in South Colonie Public Schools (Albany County) opted out of ELA tests; this year it’s 15%. In Pine Plains Central District (Dutchess County) in 2016 46% of students opted out of ELA tests; this year it’s 31%. In Brockport Public Schools (Monroe County) in 2016 36% of students opted out of ELA tests; this year it’s 26%. Even on Long Island, the epicenter of opt-out fever, Carle Place opt-out rates dropped 7%, Malverne dropped 14%, and Valley Stream dropped 5%.
There are 728 school districts in New York State. While numbers are still incomplete — some districts won’t report in until the three-morning testing period for ELA ends on Thursday — High Achievement New York’s numbers show only 50 districts with increases in opt-out rates.
And let’s face it — without New York City’s buy-in, where more than more than 40% of New York State students are educated, the opt-out movement is just a fad, no more relevant to today’s public education landscape than bell bottoms and mood rings.
Again from Chalkbeat:
New York City has traditionally had much lower opt-out rates than the rest of the state. While statewide 21 percent of families opted out last year, less than three percent did in the city. In part that’s because the movement hasn’t taken hold with as strongly with black and Hispanic families, who make up the majority of the city’s student body.
Why the difference in demographics? Because NYC parents of color urgently need school quality information in a city that’s ranked highly for school choice (Brookings just rated NYC third highest in the country) but also maintains many chronically-failing schools. If you live in Seaford (Nassau County) where 98% of the population is white and only 2% are below the poverty level, then it’s tempting to disregard statewide school quality. (Seaford’s opt-out rate this year is 69%.) If you live in New York City, where the majority of schoolchildren are Black, Latino, and poor, then you care about school quality a great deal.
A report last summer from Columbia University depicted the “the typical opt out activist ” as “a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average.”
We can only hope that those typically white and wealthy “opt out activists” are beginning to see past the solipsism of the test refusal movement.