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State Education Commissioner Elia asks parents to trust her on tests

New York’s education commissioner is asking parents to trust her on the state assessment tests and allow their children to take the tests that start next week.

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said that refusing the tests is not the way to correct the course of education in the state.

“Opting out of the 2016 tests is not the answer,” she said in a letter to The Buffalo News. “I’m asking New Yorkers to trust in the adjustments we’ve made so far and the purposeful changes we’re going to make.”

The letter comes as she takes her message on the road this week, visiting schools Wednesday and Thursday in Erie County, where support for the opt-out movement is strong.

Elia’s push for the tests also comes just over a week after newly elected Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said that if she had children of testing age, she would have them opt out at this time.

The commissioner is scheduled to visit Buffalo-area schools Wednesday and talk with parents, teachers and administrators. She will be in the Depew, West Seneca and Lancaster school districts, where substantial numbers of students opted out last year.

West Seneca had the most students in the region opting out of the assessments last year, with 71 percent refusing to take the tests. In Depew, 46 percent opted out, and 44 percent opted out in Lancaster.

Elia also will make a stop at Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

In her plea to the public to give the tests another chance, Elia said adjustments have been made.

This year’s English language arts and math tests will have fewer questions, and no time limit to finish them. The tests, given to third- through eighth-graders, will not be used to evaluate teachers or principals for the next four years, and each item has been reviewed by at least 22 state educators, she said.

“We wanted to make sure the questions measure what is being taught in our classrooms,” Elia said.

Elia said the changes made to the tests are a start, and she vowed that the tests will continue to get better. She said the tests help educators plan for the coming school year, and are the only objective measure to compare student progress between schools and districts. Future tests will have more teacher involvement, she said, and results will be available earlier. “I know the need to correct our course is urgent, but we can’t get there overnight,” she said in the letter.

Elia, the former Sweet Home teacher who has not yet marked a year as New York’s education commissioner, first announced the changes in the state tests in January. The changes came after more than 220,000 third- through eighth-graders in schools across the state opted out of taking the tests last year.

But the changes to this year’s tests were window dressing to many in the opt-out movement, who said they were not enough for their children to sit for the tests.

“Parents who are refusing these tests are not saying no to all tests,” said West Seneca parent Molly M. Dana. “We’re saying no to these tests.”

Changes to assessments

• Fewer questions.

• No time limit for students to finish.

• Each test item reviewed by at least 22 state educators.

• Tests won’t be used to evaluate teach- ers or principals for the next four years.