DROMM, TEACHERS AND FAMILIES CALL ON DOE TO INFORM PARENTS OF THEIR RIGHT TO OPT OUT

by Prince Yusadolat
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Jackson Heights, NY – NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst) and Jackson Heights People for Public Schools lead organizer Amanda Vender rallied with local parents, students, teachers and education advocates to demand that the NYC Department of Education inform parents of their right to opt their children out of the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams. Dromm, a NYC public school teacher for 25 years before being elected to the NYC Council in 2009, is adamant that parents be informed of this right.

ELA exams are scheduled to take place in NYC public schools on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 and Thursday, April 12, 2018. Math exams are scheduled for Tuesday, May 1, 2018 and Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Last year approximately 225,000 New York State public school students chose to opt out. Parents decided not to put their children through the pressure of testing because they disagree with policies that reduce education to a few test scores. They also see the detrimental effects excessive testing has had on their children. Parents have the right to have their children opt out of these tests without retaliation from schools but many have still not been informed of this right.

“Our children are more than just test scores. They are more than just a number on a sheet of paper,” said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “Test scores alone tell you little about a student and the school they attend. These exams were originally intended to assess academic development. They were never intended to be used to rank and evaluate schools, and grade students. While minor changes have been made to the tests in response to parent outcry, unfortunately, these exams are still being used inappropriately. The DOE has still not done an adequate job of informing parents of their right to opt out despite demands from parents, educators and activists. Additionally, in 2015, the NYC Council passed a resolution calling on school officials to communicate with parents on this important matter. Why has the Department made so little progress over the past three years?”

Amanda Vender, lead organizer of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools and PS 149 parent, said, “Because 20% of parents across the State refuse the tests for their children, we have seen some improvements. But in NYC, there is a lot of fear among parents. We know of many cases of immigrant parents being misinformed and even threatened by administrators if they want to opt out. We need to do our part and take a stand for the rich curriculum we know all children deserve, not test-prep.”

“Today I decided to come here because I will not be missing anything important to me in school, because today, in my class everyone in grades 3-5 will be taking test prep almost all day,” said Miles Vender-Wilson, a 5th grade student at PS 149. “But I will not be taking the state test this year. I will be the only one not taking the state test in my class this year, because I do not think that it is right to have to take the tests, especially because there is absolutely no point or effect, on our grades or anything else. The state tests affect our schools very negatively. The amount of our arts and gym periods are cut in half, to make way for extra test prep periods. This year my class only has gym two times a week, when the law requires three periods of gym a week. Every parent and child should know that they have the right to opt out of the state tests.”

Jonathan Greenberg, a parent at PS 212, said, “The problem for us is less the tests themselves and more the stakes that they have: because schools and principals are evaluated on these tests, they become the driving force shaping the curriculum, often in spite of the better judgment of administrators and teachers, and the particular needs of student populations.”

“Because of testing, school curricula have narrowed to tested subjects (ELA and math) at the expense of a well-rounded education, the number of bilingual education programs citywide has declined dramatically, and the dropout rate of English language learners has increased as a direct result of all the testing,” said Kate Menken, a parent at PS 149. “My son, a third grader who loves history, was told that social studies will not resume until after the state tests, his performance on his latest report card was explained by the teacher as largely determined by the latest MOSL (which emulates the tests), receives about 1.5 hours of homework per day, and the heavy backpack he carries home is laden with test preparation exercises at the expense of meaningful learning.”

“Contrary to the misinformation spread by some DOE officials, parents have the right to opt their children out of state exams, and neither their kids nor their schools will be punished if they choose to do so,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. The state has made it clear that a low score will not be entered into any student’s record for opting out, and no school will lose funding or be targeted for intervention as a result. Moreover, two years ago in a private meeting, Chancellor Farina told parents that if she had a special needs or English Language Learner child, she herself would opt out. ”

“Public education, which is a democratic institution and part of the common good, is sliding into the hands of privatizers and the corporations that make these tests,” said Janine Sopp, NYC Opt Out organizer. “Tests scores are the tool being used to create the narrative of ‘failure’, especially in under-resourced schools. We should be very concerned that the public education system is sliding down a hole, because if it goes down this drain, it will never come back again. Our tax dollars pay for our schools and they belong to us. Exercise you right to refuse the tests and do your part to boycott the corporate agenda. Do what you know is right for your child and for public education.”

The organizations NY State Allies for Public Education and NYC Opt Out have resources on their websites, https://www.nysape.org and www.optoutnyc.com, on how to opt out of high stakes standardized tests.

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