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Students opt out, parents upset with ‘Sit & Stare’

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Controversy is rising this week as some students opt out of the English Language Arts Assessment tests for third through 8th graders.  As part of our Focus on Education reporting, WBFO'S senior reporter Eileen Buckley explains why parents are so fired up over this issue.

"It's a lot of stress.  I've tried to opt out of these tests for the last five years, and every year I was told there is no such thing as opting out.  This year I become quite a lot more education on the process and I was not going to be derailed," said Marleen O'Connor, parent facilitator at South Side Elementary School 93 in Buffalo.  She has two sons who attend the school. 

According to the State Education Department regulations, students do have the right to "refuse to take an assessment test".  But O’Connor said when she arrived at the school this week with 'opt out' letters in hand, she was admonished and scolded by the principal.

"The secretary handed them to the principal who came out very quickly and was clearly irate that we were opting out and questions us as to why and let us know how disappointed she was and because of this we are going to lose out on a lot of money," said O'Connor.

If there is low participation for the testing a district could be consider in need, forcing an improvement plan and jeopardize funding.  

South Side parents seeking an opt out  are calling on Buffalo Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown to intervene.  WBFO News tried to reach the principal of South Side on Wednesday, but no call was returned to our newsroom.

"Plus the fact they are required by the federal government and if we don't do the testing we lose about $3 billion in aid for the state of New York," said State Regent's Robert Bennett.

But Bennett tells WBFO News he believes much of the stress over the test taking has been created by teachers and parents.

"Well there is no need for a child to be nervous about the state assessments. They don't determine the next grade level,' said Bennett.

Parents are also outraged at districts that are implementing a "Sit and Stare" policy for students who opt out.

"There's noting about a 'Sit and Stare' policy that is kind," said Dawn Merrit, Alden Middle School parent

Merritt said her 7th grade son is being forced to sit in a testing room without anything to do.  But Alden's interim superintendent Adam Stoltman tells WBFO News it is not a 'Sit and Stare' policy.  Stoltman said after an estimated time is allotted for the exam students would be allowed to read time of the test. But Stotlman would not offer the number of students who have opted out this. He said he would prefer to release that information on Friday or Monday after the ELA's conclude.

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