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NYSUT president urges parents to opt out of state tests

The opt-out movement got a high-placed endorsement Monday from the president of the statewide teachers union.

"I would opt out at this point," New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said in an Albany radio interview Monday. "And I think we're going to see an increased reliance and many more parents engaging in that opt-out movement."

Magee said the statewide teachers union has provided information on its website for parents about their rights regarding directing their children to opt out of the state's standardized tests. The union is expecting the number of children opting out of the exams to grow again this year.

"So, are you saying, Karen Magee, that you would urge parents to opt out of testing?" WCNY's Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter asked in a follow up question during the lengthy interview on education initiatives in the state budget.

"I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing," Magee confirmed.

Magee said union officials believe as many as 250,000 students might participate in the opt out movement this year. Last year, parents and teachers who were helping to organize the testing protest counted as many as 60,000 opt outs across the state.

State Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch, in a written statement sent to reporters a few hours after Magee's interview, said the state assessments "provide an important source of objective information" of student progress.

"Those who call for 'opting out' really want New York to 'opt out' of information that can help parents and teachers understand how well students are doing," Tisch said. "We cannot go back to ignoring the needs of our children. It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students."

Area school districts last year saw an increase in the number of students who refused to take state standardized tests given to third- through eighth-graders. Parents who direct their children to opt out of the exams are concerned about a wide range of issues, including the increased use of those standardized test scores in high-stakes decisions and concern that too much classroom time is spent on preparing students for the state math and English exams.

"I can tell you, if my child was in eighth grade as opposed to 11th grade, my child would not be sitting in that chair with a pencil in his hand," Magee said.

During the interview, which hit on everything from teacher evaluations to teacher tenure, Magee also weighed in on a vote last week by the Kenmore-Tonawanda Board of Education in which school board members said they were "seriously considering" refusing to administer the state assessments this year.

The state Education Department responded to the Ken-Ton vote with a letter in which it said it would seek to remove school board members if they went through with the proposal.

"What you're seeing is a school board having the local autonomy to decide what their school district does and State Ed coming back in and making a threat," Magee said. "I don't believe that State Ed can stop them from doing what they want to do."

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