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Circumstances have changed, but opt-outs from tests continue

April 22, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Opting children out of the state tests isn't as effective as it was last year. That's because New York's leaders listened to last year's howl of public protest - 20 percent opted out statewide - and a reshuffled State Education Department took some serious steps away from the problems many parents had with the exams.

The state stopped tying kids' test scores to their teachers' evaluations and pay, at least for a few years. They imposed tighter screening to the sometimes baffling test questions. They made the tests shorter and gave kids extra time to finish.

You'd think that would have prompted parents to lean back and say, "Ha! We won. We proved that this is still a democracy." Maybe it did, but on the whole, they're not letting up. Overall in the Tri-Lakes area, there were more opt-outs this year than last on day one of the recent English tests, although that trend wasn't consistent. Lake Placid doubled its opt-out count, but Tupper Lake cut its already small number in half.

Keene, which always has the best student test scores in the local area, once again had zero opt-outs.

In theory, we're not fans of having one's kids do one's civil disobedience. It can create problems in schools because kids have a keen sense of injustice: Some kids have to take a difficult test while others get to relax in study hall, all depending on their parents' nuanced views on the politics of education. It can also cause problems in the home as kids beg parents to opt them out, too.

Nevertheless, we're also big believers in democracy, and there's no doubt the opt-out movement was effective last year. It's a blunt instrument, but it's peaceful, and it worked. Will it work again? Well, it could drive home a message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that they have to do more than put a moratorium on tying test scores to teacher evaluations; they have to abolish that practice. It could also make them afraid to ever again institute major education changes without a clear mandate from the people of the state. These officials could use a little more fear of the people.

This is a fascinating scenario, and we honestly believe it could lead to a better education system - not the system the so-called reformers wanted, but one that's healthier, more accountable, less wasteful and better at giving students bedrock preparation for the changing world ahead of them.



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