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Opt in, or out? ELA testing begins for 3rd-8th graders

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The New York State English Language Arts assessments will be administered Tuesday to students in grades third through eighth begin. But as WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley reports, there hasn't been as much noise from the ‘opt out’ movement as in past years.

“But there is certainly a group of people who just don’t want to have any kind of standardized tests,” said Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director of Higher Achievement New York.

The organization is urging students and parents to "Say Yes to the Test".   

Sigmund insists enough attention has been paid to making changes to ease the burden on students.     

“There are changes that have been made for three years and good, smart changes and there are continuing changes going on to the standards to themselves and so therefore the tests will continue to change to meet those revised standards and you get rid of standardized tests – you won’t be able to compare kids across the state of know any of the kinds of achievement gaps that we just cited,” Sigmund noted.           

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director of Higher Achievement New York.

“No. I don’t buy it at all,” disagrees Chris Cerrone, of Springville with the Western New Yorkers for Public Education,  an organization that continues to promote a boycott of the state assessments.

Cerrone is the parent of two Springville Middle School students in sixth and eighth. Both will ‘opt out’ Tuesday from the ELA’s.

“That we are shortening tests – we say why do we need three days of tests? Why do we need for each subject, six total days? Why do we need up to an hour and half, up to possibly even un-timed for students too? Is that really a way to measure learning?

“I want to really emphasize that parents need to know how their kids are doing so that they can support them, so that they are the kids that are succeeding,” remarked Dr. Wendy Minstretta, Buffalo School parent of a seventh and eighth grader.  She also had a chance to be part of the State Education Department’s review team of the standards last year.

“So it’s been a long process of input. So there was public input before we went – and there was public input after – so State Ed has been really receptive to the concerns of the state and making sure the standards are appropriate, and once you have the standards, you have to asses them,” stated Minstretta.

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Buffalo Public school student.

“The decision I made a few years back to have my daughter opt out of the exam – I regretted that decision,” responded Patricia Elliott Patton, Buffalo parent. 

Elliott Patton currently home schools her daughter, but when she did attend classes in a city school, she opted out of state assessments. However, now, Elliott Patton is urging city school parents to make sure their child take the tests, so city students can be evaluated for their achievement.

“We have to know exactly where they are,” declared Elliott Patton. “It’s major important for the parent to know what the child is proficient in, what the child still needs help in and make sure the child is getting the things that she needs, to have a child opt out of an exam, only puts the child at a further deficient,” commented Elliott Patton.

“Can tests really capture what a young child, as young as eight is capable of doing later in life and we question a lot of that, but particularly in areas under the gun for low test scores, such as urban areas and areas where there’s poverty. Those schools are under the gun for test scores and the concentration on test prep and test skills are even more concentration in those areas,” responded Cerrone.  

The state's English Language Arts and Math test are designed to measure how much students are learning the standards taught in the classroom and to keep them on track toward graduation. Last year over 230,000 opted out of the assessments state-wide. The West Seneca School District had one of the highest opt out rates in the region at 73-percent.  

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Students in a West Seneca

For the first time this year, some students actually began taking the ELA's Monday because some schools are trying out the use of computers for the standardized testing. A spokesperson for the Buffalo Public School District tells WBFO News this year, they've decided not to use computers, but plan to “in the future.”

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