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Another Voice: Opt-out movement weakens, and for good reasons

By Brenda McDuffie
and Sam Radford

New York’s 1.1 million students are entering the second leg of the state’s third- through eighth-grade assessments: the math tests.

Early indications from April’s ELA tests are showing more parents rejecting the so-called opt-out effort, with 83 percent of districts in Western New York showing increased or the same rate of participation.

The opt-out movement is losing steam, and with good reason. It is important that all of us have a firm understanding of why the tests are important and why parents should opt their kids in.

First, the assessments provide both an annual checkup and a second opinion on student progress. Doctors recommend an annual physical because they want to identify – and treat – problems early. The same principle holds for our students’ understanding: The assessments provide teachers and parents a very clear sense of what students have learned and what they haven’t. At the same time, the tests provide an additional source of impartial information about student progress that can be compared with report cards and teacher feedback.

Second, the assessments help identify and close achievement gaps. Critics of testing often forget that annual assessments were designed to ensure that all children, particularly poor, minority and special education students, were counted equally and treated fairly. Results from these tests represent a critical source of objective data that can be used to highlight disparities and target resources to those most in need. Indeed, this is why most civil rights organizations, including the Urban League of Buffalo, support annual assessments as a key strategy in the fight for equity.

Third, the assessments build off of progress. Since the state implemented the combination of high standards and annual assessments, reading and math scores in Buffalo are up by 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Among black and Latino students, math scores are up by 8 percent across the state since 2013.

Opponents of the assessments have said their goal is not to undermine assessments generally, but rather these assessments. They don’t like the format, the logistics, the execution and the concepts examined in these assessments.

And yet, the state has not only listened to their concerns, but taken steps to implement their recommendations. The tests are now shorter, more age appropriate, no longer have a time limit and each question is reviewed by classroom teachers.

Most parents want to ensure that every child, regardless of community, receives a quality education. Opting students into the assessments will continue to move the state closer to that goal.

Brenda McDuffie is the president & CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. Sam Radford is the president of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council. Both are members of the High Achievement New York Coalition.

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