Jackson Heights NY – NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst) once again rallied with education advocates, parents, students and teachers who chose not to have their children take the high stakes 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 their right to opt their children out of these tests.

ELA exams are scheduled to take place in NYC public schools from Tuesday, March 28, 2017 through Thursday, March 30, 2017. Math exams are scheduled for Tuesday, May 2, 2017 to Thursday, May 4, 2017. Last year over 20% of 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.

“The NYC Department of Education must inform all parents of their right to opt their children out of these high stakes, standardized tests,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “These exams, originally intended to assess academic development, are still being used inappropriately by state and federal education departments. High stakes, standardized tests were never intended to be used to evaluate schools and grade students. The Department has still not done an adequate job of informing parents of their right to opt out despite the City Council unanimously passing a resolution in 2015 calling on school officials to do just that.”

“Opting out of the tests is the one action that has moved our education leaders away from the focus on standardized testing,” said Amanda Vender, lead organizer of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools and parent of two children who attend PS 149, Queens. “What are these tests used for anyway? The results of the tests reveal the schools with the lowest scores, label them as failures, and give power to the State to close them and replace them with charter schools. I refuse for my child to be part of the demise of public education.”

“While some improvements were made in the last few years thanks to the courageous parents who spoke up, we still have the law that places too much emphasis on testing–despite the moratorium and there are important improvements that must be made,” said Shino Tanikawa, President, NYC Kids PAC. “I hope policy makers will listen seriously to the parents who are opting out their children.”

“My son is in the fourth grade. This will be the second year our family opts out of the state tests,” said Edna Iriarte, parent member of Jackson Heights Parents for Public Schools. “When we focus on test taking we take away our children’s right to an education that supports their development, needs, and creative expression. They lose art, music, and physical education all because funding and time are dedicated to test preparation. Contrary to what some believe, these are not ‘extras.’ Research shows that they are as important as reading, writing, and math, because they teach children how to problem solve, engage in critical thinking, and develop leadership skills. We believe our public school system can and should do better by eliminating these tests.”

New York State Allies of Public Education Steering Committee Member Kemala Karen, a mother of two public school children and NYC Opt Out member said,“This year, NYC Opt Out printed postcards with a phone number (929-341-0212) that parents could call to find out more about test refusal. I answered several of those calls over the past few days. In most of the cases, the parent who called had only recently learned that refusing the test was within her rights. In all of the cases, I was asked for instructions on how to opt out. (Simply write a letter or email to your principal stating your intention to ‘refuse,’ and let the teacher know, too.) It is clear that the DOE’s failure to apprise parents of their rights, as called for by 2015’s City Council resolution, has resulted in the suppression of opt out in our city–which is not only undemocratic, but shameful for a department which allegedly champions ‘parent engagement.’”

“Because of the State tests, my day is basically math, math, ELA, ELA, writing, then lunch, and a special period,” said Miles Vender-Wilson, a 4th grade student at PS 149 in Jackson Heights. “This is because the test’s subjects, ELA, math and reading are the main focus in schools. These tests don’t help the teachers find out what you need to do better. I think teachers should use their own little quizzes every now and then to find out what we need. I don’t like sitting. I want to have breaks. I want to have more interactive projects. I think that because I opt out, some of the other kids in my class realize you don’t have to take the State tests. Maybe other kids will tell their parents they don’t have to take the State tests. If a lot more kids don’t take the test, we won’t have to prepare for the test and we can do fun projects. When we do projects, like building a mini-robot, we use math, science, and engineering and learn a lot. I think more people should opt out.”

“Make no mistake: high stakes standardized tests are for politicians, not teachers,” said Marilena Marchetti, an Education District 10 occupational therapist. “Their purpose is to discipline the work force and close neighborhood schools so charters can replace them. Need proof? Just ask anyone from one of the five Renewal Schools the DOE closed on Wednesday night. If public education weren’t a trillion dollar industry the business class was salivating over would adults really allow children to endure the toxic stress these tests induce? Not a chance.”

Katie Lapham, a public school teacher and parent, said, “The people have power and we use it to refuse these formulaic and developmentally inappropriate tests on behalf of all children, especially our English-language learners who are the most over-tested students in NYC.”

“We’ve opted out for the past four years because these tests are being used not to improve education but to punish educators.,” said public school parent Danny Katch, who is a member of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools. “The opt our movement has been the only way for parents to get our government to listen to our concerns that testing is replacing teaching.”

“As a public school parent of a seventh grader and PTA member, I continue to be horrified by the pressure applied to children to take the New York State ELA and math exams,” said David Rosenberg, a public school parent. “The Department of Education with the tacit support of the mayor, has used intimidation, coercion, and tactics bordering on blackmail to compel children and their parents to participate in these tests, against the strict wishes of thousands of families citywide. In the fourth and seven grades these severely inappropriate and poorly constructed exams are leveraged in determining high school and middle school placement, making a unfair and unequal process all the worse. Each year it’s imperative for us to expose this dishonest money grab for what it is. I thank Council Member Dromm for having the courage to speak truth to power in a city government filled with so many who choose instead to look away.”

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