Analysis: Opt-Out Reality Check — Vast Majority of New York Students Are Taking 2016 Tests

With the start of New York state’s annual test period this week, inflated claims about the number of students opting out percolated almost immediately. We were disappointed to see former Long Island principal and opt-out advocate Carol Burris cherry-pick statistics to argue in the Washington Post on Wednesday that “test refusals have exploded again this year, and early indications point to even higher numbers.“

Burris gets to an “explosion” by focusing on the fraction of districts across the state where, as in the past, large numbers of students did not sit for the test.

To use an education analogy, selecting just those districts is like saying a school has failed because some students received F’s while the majority passed. Burris only mentions the F’s.

(The 74 reports on ‘Opt-Out, Round 2:’ States walk tightrope between boycotters and federal funding threats)

What we know so far is that the vast majority of students in New York are opting in to this year’s state assessments, with the early overall numbers looking very similar to last year’s.  

Initial reports show no measurable increase in opt-outs. In fact, some areas around the state are experiencing a rise in students opting in. Some “poster districts” for the opt-out cause, such as Fairport and Chateaugay, have increased their participation by 14 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Participation in the suburbs of Rochester has increased in 15 of 16 districts, and a substantial majority of Capital Region districts have fewer opt-outs.  

In addition, students in our largest cities and many high-performing areas are opting in at rates above 90 percent – just as in previous years.

Burris asserts that “the Opt Out movement is gaining ground with parents of color,” but there is no evidence of any widespread opting out in these “communities of color.” Quite the opposite, in fact, given that Yonkers has reported a 94 percent participation rate, Buffalo characterizes the number of opt- outs as “quite low” and the New York Post reported more than 400,000 NYC students taking this week’s assessments.

Of course, there are still many parents refusing to allow their children to take the tests, particularly on Long Island, and stakeholders need to work together to continue to increase confidence among parents and ensure student participation.

The question is whether opt-out advocates like Burris will be part of that work or instead continue to make stilted arguments that further an ideological agenda.

Damian Gaillard, NY Parent, NYC
Kimberley Namkoong, NY Parent, Bethlehem
Kathryn Marrow, NY Parent, NYC
Sam Radford, NY Parent, Buffalo
Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director, High Achievement New Yor

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