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‘Opt out’ of 132 Hamburg students revives debate on state assessment

The Hamburg Central School District was surprised last week when 132 students – including two children of a School Board member – stayed home from school during state testing.

The district had heard from a number of parents that they would keep their children home and “opt out” of participating in the assessment.

But there were many more, particularly at the Middle School, who didn’t show up for the exam and did not inform the district.

“We had a larger number of refusals. Now we have approximately an entire class that needs to make up the test, including the refusals,” Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch said during a special board meeting Friday morning.

Parents in Hamburg are joining a growing movement protesting the assessment. Some are concerned that the focus on preparing for and taking statewide tests is leaving little room for instruction beyond math, English and science. Some object to the amount of money paid to corporations to develop the tests and curriculum materials. Others don’t like the growing importance of the tests on everything from teacher evaluations to property values.

“This is not about assessing kids anymore,” said Holly A. Balaya, a School Board member who kept her two children home during last week’s tests. “This is about so much more.”

Balaya said there is too much emphasis on the annual tests, noting that many families look at results to decide where they will live. She said she has no problem with the state giving assessments to see how children are doing, but she thinks it should go back to testing them in fourth and eighth grades.

Parents who wanted their children to opt out contacted the district and were told to bring their children to school when the test was over so they would not miss the entire day of school. The plan was to allow students to be given the makeup exam, which they could refuse and then return to class so they wouldn’t miss instruction.

Because there were so many students opting out of the three days of testing last week, the district said it was changing how the makeup would be administered. It said students would be required to sit in the test room during the makeup exams for three 90-minute sessions.

Parents were furious that the process changed after the tests were over and that their children were going to miss class time. One mother at the board’s special meeting said that she never would have kept her son home on the three mornings of the English exam and that she would have had him sit in the room during the original round of testing.

“I just want my kid to go back to his classroom, where he belongs,” she said.

The district relented and reverted to the original plan.

Last week, 92 students at the Middle School did not take the exam on the first of three test days, Achramovitch said. That includes 18 who were absent, 29 who were present but refused to take the exam, and 45 who came in after the test.

At Union Pleasant Elementary, eight students were absent, 20 came in after the test, and one refused the test. At Charlotte Elementary, one student was absent, and three came in after the test. At Boston Valley Elementary, one was absent, and two refused the test, and at Armor Elementary, two were absent, one came in after the test, and one refused the test.