Number of students taking standardized tests decreases

Many school districts reported an increase in the number of students refusing to take the state standardized tests for English Language Arts this week, but none so much as Fredonia School district.

In Fredonia, there were a total of 646 students in grades 3 through 8 eligible to take the tests.

According to Director of Instruction Joseph Reyda, on Tuesday 131 students refused to take the test while 132 refused on Wednesday, although Reyda noted some students took a makeup while others were added to the opt-out list.

The opt-out numbers by grade for Tuesday included 18 in third grade; four in fourth grade; 26 in fifth; 21 in sixth; 30 in seventh and 31 eighth graders. On Wednesday, there were 19 third graders; four in fourth grade; 25 in fifth; 22 in sixth; 32 in seventh and 31 in eighth grade.

The website lists 12 reasons parents should opt their children out of testing, including too much focus on the test, poorly written questions, not helping students learn and a one-size-fits-all approach.

These points have also been highlighted in local TV media in recent days, one of the factors some superintendents contributed to the increase.

According to Paul DiFonzo, the district’s rate of test refusal increased this year to 18 percent from around 6 percent last year (7 percent in the middle school and 5 percent in the elementary).

He said Fredonia is not the only district to be affected by increased rates of test refusals, but attributed the community’s awareness of the Common Core for its high numbers.

“The numbers are up, but I think if you look at what’s being said in the media, what’s happened when the commissioner has gone to different communities and had his chats, I think you have seen a lot of unrest about the Common Core. In all honesty there is not much more testing going on this year than prior to the Common Core Learning Standards. I think parents are concerned and in some cases there is misinformation and misunderstanding regarding the Common Core initiative. We use these tests as one of several measures of student achievement. I would hope that most parents would see the value in having their children take the tests.

“Fredonia is not alone in this issue. … I believe the (Common Core) was not rolled out and implemented in the most efficient and effective manner. I think that educators need more time to study the Common Core Learning Standards and develop appropriate curriculum to match those standards. Testing is just one component of the (Common Core) agenda. Refusing to take the test is one way for people to express their dissatisfaction, and I think it is happening across the state,” he explained.

DiFonzo said the federal government requirement is a 95 percent participation rate, and participation levels are being monitored by state Education Department.

“My concern is if you have more than 5 percent test refusals, at some point the state may try to punish a school district and look at reducing school aid. That would be my major concern. … That hasn’t happened in the past, but if you recall, when districts didn’t have their teacher evaluation plans (APPR) in place, the state punished those school districts by reducing their aid,” he explained.

He added that he wants parents to be well informed before they have their children refuse to take a test.

“I would like all the parents to ask questions, talk to their building principals, express their concerns, but ultimately students have to take tests all through school.”

In the Gowanda Central School district, six students in the elementary school did not take the test. Elementary Principal Janice Stokes said six students did not take the test, which is the same amount of students as last year.

Middle School Principal Dave Smith confirmed 21 students did not take the testing at the middle school level. Smith said the middle school just missed the 95 percent participation rate. The participation rate is linked to the annual yearly progress. Smith also added that about 80 percent of area school districts have failed to meet that 95 percent participation rate.

“In the past if you had less than 95 percent participation, you failed to meet AYP,” Smith said.

In Silver Creek, the number of students refusing to take the ELA test increased from 1 student to 28 students.

Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich said in Silver Creek, the district uses these assessments to collect data about student achievement, not as a major test for grading purposes.

“We need students to take the tests to get data to better educate them,” he explained. “The thing people don’t understand is that the New York State Education Department has resources to create assessments individual schools don’t and they have assessments more aligned to the (Common Core) standards and curriculum shifts than individual school districts can create locally. So, these tests should be the most accurate measure of how students are doing on the Core curriculum than other data.”

Brocton High School Principal Jason Delcamp said 12 students opted out of ELA testing, and he anticipates more will opt out of the math exams scheduled for the end of April and early May. He said one to two parents per day have called in to opt their children out of testing. Delcamp said last year the district had only one student refuse to take the test.

The Dunkirk City School District reported a total of seven students opted out of taking the ELA tests; two in grade three, two in grade four, two in grade six and one in eighth grade.

According to the superintendent’s office, Dunkirk had 910 students in grades 3 through 8 eligible to take the tests, including 137 third graders; 168 in fourth grade; 142 in fifth grade; 141 in sixth grade; 175 in seventh and 147 in eighth grade.

In Forestville, Superintendent Charles Leichner said no students refused the tests.

Cassadaga Valley Superintendent Thomas Schmidt reported 36 students refused to take the ELA test in his district.

The Pine Valley Central School District reported having four students in the middle school and 14 students in the elementary school who refused to take the test. According to Elementary Principal Scott Burdick, parents of the elementary students wrote letters to the district. All students who did not take the test were kept in the same room as students taking the test. Those students who did not take the test were given the test to read over.