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Williamsville to allow students who opt out of state tests to read at their desks during exams

Students in the Williamsville Central School District whose parents direct them to refuse to take state standardized tests in math, reading and writing this spring will be able to read quietly at their desks during the exams.

Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff told the Board of Education this week that the district will change its controversial policy regarding children who opt out of the state tests.

“We’re not looking to create incentives for people to refuse the tests,” Martzloff told the board. “But by the same token, given the extreme stance that exists in Albany, we want to be sensible and not become the epicenter for the conversation around test refusals.”

Last year, the Williamsville district required those students to sit quietly at their desks and read only exam materials. Some parents in the district who had their children refuse the tests have repeatedly complained about that policy, which they have dubbed “sit-and-stare.”

Martzloff told district leaders he would send out a letter to parents soon to advise them of the change in policy.

“I definitely feel supporting our parents’ rights to refuse the tests is within our realm,” board member Jay Smith said during a meeting earlier this week.

Thousands of parents across the state last year directed their children to refuse to take state standardized tests in math and English Language Arts that are given to third- through eighth-graders. Those parents have expressed a range of concerns, including fears about the use of those exams in high-stakes decisions such as teacher evaluations and the increased focus in some classrooms on test preparation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed increasing the use of student scores on state standardized tests in evaluating teachers. The proposal, along with other initiatives in his education agenda, has angered some parents and teachers who think there is already too much emphasis on the test scores.

Martzloff said students whose parents have informed the school principal that their children would refuse the tests would be allowed to read a book after the test instructions are read.

Last year, about 5.5 percent of the district’s 4,816 third- through eighth-grade students refused to take the state English Language Arts exam in Williamsville.