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Amherst drops ‘sit and stare’ policy for students who opt out of testing

Amherst on Monday became the latest school district to drop what critics of testing call a “sit and stare” policy for elementary and middle school students boycotting state assessments.

Those students at Amherst Central school will not be forced to sit quietly at their desks while the tests are administered beginning next month.

“In order to maintain and protect the integrity of the testing environment, we have determined that those students who refuse to take the assessment will be allowed to read silently in an alternate location,” Superintendent Laura K. Chabe wrote in a letter to parents.

Supporters of the opt-out movement said they’re satisfied with the district’s change in policy and have cancelled a protest planned for Wednesday in front of Amherst Central High School. Critics of the “sit and stare” practice say it punishes children whose parents rightfully refuse to allow participation in state standardized tests.

Amherst students who opt out will be allowed to read only paperback or hardcover books. Textbooks and electronic devices are banned during test administration. Parents of students who opt out were asked to notify their principal by April 13.

The policy change came the same day the president of the statewide teachers union urged a mass boycott of state standardized testing next month. “I would opt out at this point,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a radio interview Monday.

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 decision-making and concern that too much classroom time is spent on preparing students for the state exams.

Chabe, in her letter, made clear her support of the assessments: “The NYS Assessments are one of multiple measures that we utilize to determine the strengths and learning needs of our students, and they assist us in evaluating our curriculum and prioritizing our resources,” she wrote.