opting out

Families skipping tests say they expect more company this year

Parents held a press conference to announce that students from 33 schools will be opting out of statewide standardized tests that start tomorrow. From left, Jamie Mirabella, Evelyn Cruz, Cynthia Copeland and Jeanette Deutermann, all spoke about their decision to encourage their children not to sit the exams. (Nell Gluckman)
Parents announced that students from 33 schools would opt out of state standardized tests that start tomorrow. From left: Jamie Mirabella, Evelyn Cruz, Cynthia Copeland, and Jeanette Deutermann spoke about their decision to encourage their children not to sit for the exams. (Nell Gluckman)

A small coterie of parents who oppose high-stakes testing expect to gain a little traction across the city as elementary and middle school students prepare to take state tests tomorrow — tests that city and state officials have warned for months are likely to result in plummeting scores.

Six parents who said they were representing parents from 33 schools across the city gathered in a small office in the Upper West Side’s Bloomingdale Family Program preschool today to announce a boycott of Tuesday’s tests, the first to be tied to new standards known as the Common Core.

“We are fed up with the efforts that go into test preparation,” said Cynthia Copeland, the parent of a fourth-grader at a Lower East Side school.

“I have a sixth grader who’s passionate about math and language arts and it’s killing his passion,” said Evelyn Cruz, a parent from an East Harlem school. She said her son has a 97 average in math and does well on standardized tests, but the testing environment is causing him stress and making him less enthusiastic about school.

None of the parents at the press conference would name the schools their children attend. They said they wanted to protect their children’s teachers and principals, some of whom have been helping the families as they work toward opting out of the exams.

A member of Time Out from Testing, which is helping parents organize to advocate against high-stakes testing, was listed as a media contact, and the group’s banner was displayed behind the parents. But the parents said they are not formally affiliated with any organization.

Last spring, amid growing criticism of standardized tests and how their scores are used, just 113 New York City students opted out of the state tests, and state and city officials have publicly downplayed the scale of opt-out sentiment this year.

“There’s been a lot of chatter, a lot of conversation, but we feel it’s best for their child or their children to take the tests,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at a press conference in Brooklyn earlier this morning where he unveiled an advertising campaign to quell families’ fears.

The four parents who spoke to a room full of reporters said they could not speculate about how many parents would ultimately opt out during the next two weeks of state tests. But Jamie Mirabella, who has a third grader in a Brooklyn school, said the movement is growing.

“It’s happening in conversations from person to person,” she said.

And Copeland said the families who are choosing to sit out the state tests are more diverse than their critics have charged. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, for example, said last year that the opt-out movement is largely made up of parents from high-performing schools in middle-class neighborhoods whose children face few consequences if their children skip the tests.

“There have been people coming from Ocean Hill-Brownsville. … We’ve got people in the Bronx,” Copeland said. “We really are reaching out.”

One parent from a school in East New York could not attend the press conference but sent a statement that was distributed to attendees. “Many special needs students were blamed for not making Annual Year[ly] Progress,” her statement read. “As a result, the schools’ progress reports were low. How can we blame special needs students, the most needy children in our education system?”

State test scores are used to help evaluate students, schools, and principals — and under state law, they will factor into teachers’ ratings in the future, too. The scores are also used to determine whether a child will be promoted to the next grade or get into screened programs and schools.

Copeland, whose son is in fourth grade, said she contacted middle schools to find out if boycotting the exams might affect her son’s application for admission. Fourth-grade test scores are used in middle school admissions, and selective high schools use seventh-grade exam scores to make admissions decisions.

“For the most part we’re being told it’s not going to have any bearing,” Copeland said.

Students who boycotted the exams last year were evaluated on a more subjective portfolio of their work, which their teachers prepared and submitted as evidence that the students should move on to the next grade. Schools will follow the procedure again this year for students who opt out of the tests or miss them for other reasons, such as illness.

Parents who do not want their children to take the exam are expected to submit a protest letter to their schools. A copy of the letter can be downloaded from the websites of Change the Stakes and Time Out from Testing, two organizations that are advocating against high-stakes standardized testing in New York City. Parents said they would still send their children to school tomorrow and expect that they will do something else during the exam.

Briefing reporters about the state tests last week, state education officials emphasized that schools are under no obligation to provide programming for students who refuse to take the tests. The tests are the regular academic program for students in third through eighth grade during testing periods, the officials said.

That fact has constrained the opt-out movement, Mirabella said.

“I know of many parents that wanted to refuse and they talked to their children and their children didn’t want to be the only one in their classroom,” she said, adding that she and her daughter had a serious conversation about the tests and her daughter agreed to opt out.

The parents were not worried that their children would miss out on being evaluated or feel isolated from the rest of their classmates who are taking the tests.

“This is a real-world experience,” said Copeland.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.