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NY makes 'substantial' changes to standardized tests to curb opt-out movement

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in Syracuse Thursday.

Testing season has begun in schools across New York state. It’s unclear how many students will join the opt-out movement this year, but state officials said they have tried to answer some of the concerns from parents and teachers that spawned the movement.

English Language Arts tests for grades 3-8 began this week. In recent years, as many as 20 percent of students across the state opted out of these tests, led by parents and teachers who criticized the way the state handled standardized testing. New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia does not know how many students are opting out this year.

"But we’ve done substantial things to kind of calm people down, to realize we want to work together and figure out what we need to do to move forward,” Elia said. "It was used with parent input. And I’m sure it reflected, I’m sure some of those parents who gave input were parents that participated in the opt-out movement."

Elia said some of those things include eliminating time limits on tests, reducing the number of questions, and temporarily stepping back on a policy that tied test results to teacher evaluations. That teacher evaluation issue will have to be resolved next year. In the meantime, the opt-out movement is still alive, and has been advising families how their children can opt-out of the 2017 tests. The math portion of the tests will be administered in May.

Every Student Succeeds Act

State education officials said they are still waiting to see how the new Trump administration’s federal education policy will affect New York state. Elia said the only thing she knows for sure is that state’s now will have to enact what she called a substantially different federal education policy, approved a little over a year ago.

"It gives more emphasis and supports for states and local control, as opposed to the federal government determining what you have to do,” Elia said.

Elia said this law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, offers a good balance of having high standards but letting state and local entities make the final decisions on how to achieve them.

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.