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Opt-out parents say tests haven't changed enough, as exams begin

Ellen Abbott
Opt-out supporters protesting in the Syracuse area last week.

The controversial math and English language tests for children in grades 3-8 begin in public schools across New York state today. Opposition to the tests has been quieter this year, but still simmers among parents and educators in central New York.

A year ago, following rallies and parents meetings, an estimated 20 percent of children statewide who should have taken these math and English language assessment tests refused, with families calling the testing that measured teachers, students and schools, excessive. 

The Cuomo administration was forced to take action, creating a task force that made some changes to the testing regimen. But fast forward to this year’s round of tests, and many parents and educators say not much has changed at all.

"I think some of the changes that were made, were made to kind of pacify and placate the movement, hoping it would die out,” said Baldwinsville teacher Vincent Foriero. He suggests the four-year moratorium that unlinks tests to teacher and principal evaluation was simply a political move.

"If we were serious, we would change the law and we would make it permanent. A four-year moratoria, the opt-out movement dies out in the meantime, all of a sudden the tests come back as they were,” said Foriero.

The state promised to include more teacher involvement in the tests, but that doesn’t impress Tonya Wilson, who has three school age children in Camillus.

"[State Education] Commissioner [MaryEllen] Elias in a recent interview said 22 teachers will review the test. Twenty-two teachers out of thousands in New York state. I don’t see how that’s going to make a real change.”

Teachers and parents also suggest state promises to make the tests shorter and more in line with what students are learning, fall short. North Syracuse third grade teacher Christy Normanly says she still spent a big part of class time this year teaching her class how to take a test.

"They sit. They’re afforded the opportunity to use the rest room, to get a drink. And they’re told they have to sit for 60 minutes at least. I don’t know. That’s the tough part. They’re eight years old. They’re squirrely.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.