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Editorial: Opt-in, for your children's future

State education assessments in English language arts take place this week for third- through eighth-graders. No parent should let their child get left behind. Students should take the test, along with the math component that follows next month.

The assessments measure progress and without it parents and teachers have no way of knowing how well students are doing in any given subject or even how well a school district is faring in its mission in delivering high quality education.

Yet, as in the past several years some parents plan to allow their children to “opt out” of the state tests. These parents are motivated by what they deem to be overly stressful exams, too much focus on a narrow band of information by teachers under pressure to produce high-scorers. Others would argue – correctly – that the opt-out movement is influenced by teachers unions, which make their opposition clear.

Thousands of families joined together in boycotting the tests, with more than 225,000 students opting out of New York State exams in 2017, according to Chris Cerrone of Springville. Cerrone is a middle school teacher and co-founder of Western New Yorkers for Public Education and New York State Allies for Public Education.

The Board of Regents and the state Education Department have recalibrated the tests by taking time limits off and, in 2015, limited their use in formal teacher evaluations. Test time was shortened by one-third last year.

Despite changes, some parents still plan to have their children opt out of the tests. Writing in The News, Cerrone argued that the boycott of state assessments need to continue because, he said, schools are forced to focus on test scores “over true learning,” and because the measurement, itself, is flawed.

But opting out of the state assessment tests is less appealing to parents whose children attend urban schools. The single-digit opt-out percentage compared to the suburban double-digit tally is a strong indicator that the movement has not gained a foothold in urban districts.

Sam Radford, in a separate oped piece, cited the “clear message: Low-income communities are saying yes to the test because they know that information is power.”

He’s right. But it’s not just for low-income students in urban districts. The assessments offer valuable information as a universal measurement – how students in the Buffalo Public Schools fare in comparison to their suburban counterparts and how suburban and rural districts compare to one another. It's important for all students.

Radford is president of the Buffalo Public Schools District Parent Coordinating Council and is a member of the High Achievement New York coalition. Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, is also a member. Speaking to the editorial board along with the group’s executive director, Stephen Sigmund and parent Patricia Elliott-Patton – who once allowed her children to opt out but later regretted and reversed that decision – made a strong case for their cause: Say Yes to the Test.

Those valid reasons encompass concerns about students graduating high school without the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the work world. That leads to deeper income inequality.

Too many children graduate high school unprepared to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive world. The assessments offer a valuable skills measurement and help students get what they need out of an educational system that is supposed to have their best interests at heart. That's parents' obligation, as well.

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