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Photo Caption: Dromm, education advocates, parents, students and teachers gather in Jackson Heights, Queens 

to rally in support of NYC parents’ right to opt their childrenout of high stakes, standardized tests in New York.

(Sunday, April 3, 2016) NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst) rallied with education advocates, parents, students and teachers who chose not to not have their children take the high stakes New York State English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams scheduled for this week.  Dromm, a NYC public school teacher for 25 years before being elected to the NYC Council in 2009, wants to be sure parents know they have a right to opt out.  Students also attended the rally.

ELA exams are scheduled to take place in NYC public schools from Tuesday, April 5, 2016 through Thursday, April 7, 2016.  Math tests are scheduled for the following week.  Last year over 240,000 students in New York State 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 not been informed of this right.

“Parents need to know that they can opt their children out of these high stakes, standardized tests,” said Dromm.  “The NYC Department of Education has not done an adequate job of informing parents of their rights despite the City Council passing a resolution last year calling on the DOE to do just that.”

Dromm continued, “ELA tests are still being used inappropriately by state and federal education departments.  If these tests were only used to track academic development and identify areas in which students need improvement, they might be acceptable.  However, state and federal education agencies continue to use them to evaluate schools and grade students.  High stakes, standardized tests were never intended to be used this way.  Parents should be able to opt their child out if they so choose especially when the validity of the test itself is in doubt.”

Almost every year mistakes are found on the tests.  In the past, thousands of children were told they had to repeat a grade only to find out during the summer that they had actually passed the test.  Example after example of the inappropriateness of the tests can be cited.

Governor Cuomo has called the tests “meaningless.”  Chancellor Fariña has said she would opt her children out if they were English Language Learners (ELL’s) or in special education.

“I refused the tests for my child because I am part of a growing movement of parents who say enough to the focus on ELA and math at the expense of everything else,” said Amanda Vender, public school parent, teacher and lead organizer of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools.  “I opt out so that my children will not spend 8% or more of their time in school taking tests. I opt out to return to a rich, creative curriculum, and play-based instruction in the younger grades.  I opt out as part of a growing movement to defend public education in a country where it is increasingly becoming privatized and segregated by income.  We cannot allow fear to hold us back from making significant improvements to our schools. Opting out of the tests is the one action that has moved our education leaders away from the focus on standardized testing.”

“I believe in public education, so I feel that I have no choice except to opt my child out of the state test,” said Jackson Heights People for Public Schools Member Marnie Geltman, who is parent of a

3rd grader and is refusing the tests.  “The purpose of these tests is to defund and destroy public education.  These tests do not provide teachers or parents with any useful information. I refuse to allow my child to participate in a test that causes so much harm to children and schools.”

“This is the third year that my daughter has refused the tests—not because we’re against all tests but because we’re against bad tests that few of our teachers think are effective,” said public school parent Danny Katch, who is a member of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools. “In response to the 240,000 parents who opted out last year, the state has made minor changes to the tests but the main problem remains: as long as schools are judged by these tests, they will emphasize test prep over real education.  That’s why we’re opting out again this year and that’s why every parent should be aware that they have a right to refuse these tests.”

“This is a critical moment for public education and what it means in the lives of NYC children and families,” said Peter Nuñez, parent of three public school students and member of Change the Stakes.  “As things now stand, corporations have invested their money in public education with a goal of making a profit from schools, and eventually to privatize them so they can make even bigger profits.  These corporations pressure policy makers and politicians, many of whom have given in to the pressure.  And who is suffering?  Our children.  The high stakes Grade 3-8 tests have become overwhelming for families–especially low-income families.  I have personally seen how the tests have hurt my children.  As parents, we are working to fight back.”

“I think these tests are really unfair because the Department of Education can just raise or lower what grade you have to get to pass,” said Lila Katch, a 5th grade student at PS 69Q in Jackson Heights.  “It’s not really how well you do that counts. It’s just what the Department of Education wants.  And these tests are used so much.  Some middle schools judge you on them and many high schools judge you on them.  But they don’t do a very good job of testing your knowledge.  I think that schools should judge kids on their scores on other tests and on their projects. Some kids aren’t really that good at tests so projects would be a good thing to look at too.  I have never taken the test but I’ve taken all the practice for it, and I know that the test doesn’t test your knowledge very well.  You don’t get to explain your thinking that much.  For example, I would write, ‘The knight is brave for a variety of reasons.  To begin with he goes into the fire to save someone.  He is brave to do so.’ That’s all the explaining I get to do. When I have written other things, they have been better and they taught me to write well more than these tests do.  When I opted out of the test is easy for me. Teachers respected my decision.  I think all kids should have that right.”

 “As the nation’s only pan-Asian Children and Families rights’ organization, The Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) works with low-income, recent immigrant families to develop their knowledge, engagement and leadership in the NYC public school system,” said Mitchel Wu, Youth and Parent Program Manager for CACF.  “Currently, 1 out of 5 Asian Pacific  American (APA) youth is an English Language Learner, and APAs in NYC have the highest rates of being foreign born at 80%. Many immigrant families do not know their rights in the school system.  When it comes to opting in or out, parents need to fully understand their rights and options as well as the impact these tests have on their child’s education.  Our youth and parents all strive to have a system that ensures learning occurs with a holistic approach to develop well rounded citizens for the 21st century and challenges the emphasis that success is solely based on high-stakes test scores.”

“Parents from across New York City are calling on the NYS Education Department, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña to respect the professionalism of NYC public school teachers by lifting the gag order and allowing teachers to openly discuss the tests with parents,” said Jane Maisel, parent, educator and NYC Opt Out member.  “And before the tests begin on Tuesday the DOE should show equal respect for parents by emailing every parent and sending home by hard copy the clear message, without threats, and translated as needed, that parents have the right to decide if their child should take the state tests.” 

“We are professional educators with years of classroom experience and a deep knowledge of developmentally appropriate pedagogy,” said Katie Lapham, who teaches in a public school in Brooklyn.  “We are also mandated reporters, entrusted to protect our students from abuse. Yet the NYC Department of Education doesn’t want us to discuss Pearson’s New York State Common Core tests with parents even though the tests have been widely discredited and, since 2013, have proven harmful to our students and school communities. This is an affront to our democracy and an insult to our professional judgment.”

The organization NYC Opt Out has resources on their website,www.optoutnyc.com on how to opt out of high stakes standardized tests.


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