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Mar 4, 2014 5:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Schools Still Hammering Away At 'Opt Out' Policy For State Exams

Mar 5, 2014 11:13 AM

With the first round of state assessments less than a month away, Westhampton Beach School District officials said they are still grappling with their obligation under state law to administer the tests, while at the same time respecting the wishes of parents who want their children to “opt out.”

Cynthia McNamara, whose two daughters attend the East Quogue Elementary School, asked school officials at the Westhampton Beach Board of Education meeting on Monday night if they had outlined a policy for those students who will not be taking the state exams. Her oldest daughter is currently in sixth grade and will attend Westhampton Beach Middle School next September.

Ms. McNamara said she takes issue with the new Common Core-aligned exams, which she described as “abusive,” and pointed out that other local districts, including East Quogue and Hampton Bays, are accepting refusal letters from parents and plan to allow those students to read while the testing takes place. Students in grades three through eight are scheduled to begin taking the English Language Arts exams on Tuesday, April 1.

Westhampton Beach, however, has yet to outline such a policy. Schools Superintendent Michael Radday said during the meeting that he and other district administrators were awaiting direction from the State Education Department on the issue. State law requires that the districts administer the tests, he explained, and it provides no “opt out” provision.

One line of thinking among school attorneys, he said, is that the district has to physically place the test in front of all students in order to comply with the state law. Doing so would essentially require that students—some as young as seven or eight—would have to refuse to take the test, rather than having a parent make that decision ahead of time.

Tom Dunn, a spokesperson for the State Education Department, said in an email on Tuesday that all students are expected to participate in the state assessments, and that students who do not will be reported to the state as “not tested.”

“Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered,” he added. Mr. Dunn did not comment further.

“The question becomes, does the student have to refuse, or can you in advance accept the refusal from a parent?” Mr. Radday said. “And that’s where we’re looking to make sure that we meet our obligations under the law and once we have a clear sense of that, we’ll inform parents accordingly as to what the procedure is.”

He added that his district has had a “very minimal” number of students expressing their desire to refuse the tests, and noted that he encourages all students to take the exams.

Board of Education President Suzanne Mensch echoed those statements in an email on Tuesday. “We are required by NYS law to administer the state exams and we are working to ensure that we do so in a manner that best provides a proper testing atmosphere for our students, just as we have always done in the past,” she wrote. “We are encouraging all students to sit for and not refuse the exams, but we respect our parents’ decisions with regard to their child’s education.”

Ms. McNamara said on Tuesday that she was disappointed with the lack of a decision, and noted that she and other parents had hoped a clear policy from Westhampton Beach would allow their children to be productive without disrupting those students who are taking the exams. Keeping their children at home on exam days is not an option, she explained, because the assessments only take up a portion of the day and the absences would be unexcused. Additionally, if students are absent during the assessment times, districts are required by law to administer the tests on a scheduled make-up day.

“Westhampton is the only one that seems to be able to not make that decision for themselves,” she said.

Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen explained that his district has directed parents to notify the principals—perhaps with a note—if they wish to have their child refuse to sit for the exams, to avoid forcing a child to say the “magic words” on test day. “We have no form because we are not establishing a refusal process,” he added.

Those children who will not be taking the exams will be permitted to read education material, novels, non-fiction books or short stories, though district officials have not yet determined whether they will be taken to a separate location, according to Mr. Clemensen. That decision will be made once the testing room assignments and proctoring is mapped out, he said.

“Students are my number one priority here,” he said. “We encourage students to take the test. If they refuse to take the test, we’re not going to make a big issue of it.”

Mr. Radday said during Monday’s meeting that educators must also teach children perseverance and “a willingness to take on challenges.”

“The message to students has to be crafted carefully when we talk about opting out, because we don’t want students to take away from it that when something is hard, you choose a different path,” he said. “And that’s the balance we’re trying to find.”

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I would like to point out to Mr. Radday that if he believes parents are refusing the NYS assessments for their children because they are "too hard" he is 100% WRONG!! These tests have no educational value to our children. Their teachers do not get the tests back after they are taken. They are told that a certain number of students got specific questions wrong but not what topics those questions dealt with. The tests do not drive our children's education at all! The "results" are not sent out ...more
By eqmomof3 (22), EAST QUOGUE on Mar 5, 14 3:46 PM
Here is a very interesting side note to this article...
On March 3rd the very same day Mr. Radday said that "we don’t want students to take away from it that when something is hard, you choose a different path” the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association sent a letter to Governor Cuomo. Westhampton Beach signed that letter.
In that letter it states:
"The exams and cut scores are invalid instruments designed only to promote a political agenda and serve no instructional ...more
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Mar 6, 14 12:37 PM
3 members liked this comment