Opting out of state tests could cost districts - The Buffalo News
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Opting out of state tests could cost districts

More area students refused to take the state ELA assessment this week, and the numbers have some superintendents worried about what the protest will cost their districts.

There could be a loss of federal or state funding for districts whose participation falls below the 95 percent benchmark set by New York State.

And while the state Education Department has said no new schools or districts would be identified as needing improvement based on the results of this year’s assessment, there is concern for the future.

The opt-out movement grew in some districts this year and took hold in others. An unofficial count from parents involved in the opt-out movement has more than 4,000 students opting out in Western New York and more than 30,000 statewide.

Some districts have released the numbers of students refusing to take the three-day test this week. Others, like many of those in Erie 1 BOCES, decided to wait until after the makeup days for the test are finished Tuesday.

Districts said the delay is so they can distribute accurate, up-to-date information.

It also will give them time to count those students whose parents opted them back into testing.

“I know of at least a dozen,” said Frontier Central interim Superintendent Paul G. Hashem

He sent a letter to parents who had informed the district their children would not take the assessment. The letter explains the importance of the tests and how tests help the district provide individualized instruction to students – and the letter apparently caused some parents to change their minds.

Still, numbers emerging from some districts are striking.

In West Seneca, 877 students, or 28 percent of third through eighth graders, did not take the test.

In East Aurora, 137 students, or 15.5 percent, refused the test.

Those and others fell short of the 95 percent participation required by the state, and it could hurt their budgets, according to Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie. Federal aid could be reduced, and the increase in state aid could be withheld.

“The potential there is for the state to withhold aid,” he said,.

“It will likely have an impact on individual teacher evaluations, building and district standing in the accountability system.”

Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District Superintendent Paul M. Connelly said he was concerned about the potential for the district to lose out on funding from the state because it failed to meet the 95 percent threshold.

“I don’t anticipate them doing that, but you never know,” Connelly said.

North Collins was surprised in a fourfold increase in opt-outs this year. Twenty students refused to take the test, causing the district to dip below 95 percent participation, interim Superintendent Joan Thomas said. She said districts are facing possible state penalties for the actions of parents.

“We didn’t do anything wrong, the parents chose to refuse to have their child take the test,” Thomas said. “The state has certain possible sanctions that they can impose if you don’t reach your annual yearly objective.”

The movement appears to be weaker in Niagara County, where 107 of Starpoint Central students or 8.8 percent opted out, and just one student in Barker refused the test.

Still, the anti-test sentiment is growing.

In Lewiston-Porter Central, 1,037 students were eligible to take the tests, and 30 opted out, Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said, twice as many as last year.

In North Tonawanda, there was both a proactive and reactive policy to encourage testing. Of the approximately 1,600 students eligible, 63 refused.

Some parents contacted the school in advance, but a majority of the students who refused to take the test did so when they arrived on the test day, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Laurie Burger said.

Superintendent Gregory J. Woytila also met with parents in advance, she said.

In Lake Shore, 25 percent, or 287, refused the test, and that could affect how the district uses the results, Superintendent James Przepasniak said.

He said the district uses the assessments to identify students who may need academic help.

“Although the state assessments were not a sole indicator of these things, it was a tool that we have used,” he said.

“It may be difficult to use the results from this year in the same fashion internally in the district, because basically 75 percent of our students were tested, and I’m not sure if that would be considered adequate enough to make major decisions.”

News Staff Reporters Denise Jewell Gee, Nancy A. Fischer, Michelle Kearns, Aaron Besecker and Janice L. Habuda and correspondents Eileen Werbitsky and Teresa Sharp contributed to this report. email: bobrien@buffnews.com

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