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Elia emphasizes ‘high standards’ in visit to area schools

After asking parents to trust her and allow their children to take state assessments tests next week, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia paid a visit to area schools Wednesday, including districts that had some of of the strongest opt-out movements last year.

Elia visited West Seneca schools, where 71 percent of students refused to take the tests last year. “High standards are what we need,” Elia said Wednesday during her time at West Seneca, which included a visit to a kindergarten classroom. “Teachers need the support to be able to do it.”

Also on the itinerary for Elia, a former Sweet Home teacher, were visits to Depew, where 46 percent opted out last year, and Lancaster, where 44 percent opted out.

In Lancaster, Elia was greeted by the William Street school’s band, as well as Principal Jacqueline Bull and Superintendent Michael Valley. She also visited a fifth-grade class at the school.

One of her messages during the Western New York trip was to let people know about the changes in state assessments and to emphasize that student test results have been separated from teacher evaluations.

“In eight months we have made some major changes,” Elia said today.

She announced earlier this year the math and English Language arts tests will be a bit shorter, and students will have an unlimited amount of time to take them. “This is not a test of speed, this is a test of comprehension,” she said today of the unlimited time to be allowed for the state assessments in third through eighth grades. Also, she noted earlier that teachers reviewed the questions, and they will not be used to evaluate teachers or administrators for the next four years.

During today’s visit, Elia said data on tests will be out between June 15 and June 30 this year.

But the modifications to the state assessments were window dressing to many in the opt-out movement, who said they were not enough for their third through eighth graders to sit for the tests.

Elia, who worked in Florida schools for more than a decade before being named to the top post in New York, has endorsed high standards and accountability.

Many parents would agree with that, but they say New York’s tests are not diagnostic or prescriptive: parents don’t know where their child’s weaknesses are, or how to improve them.

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

Karen Robinson contributed to this report. email: