Few North Fork students planning to ‘opt out’

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District residents gathered Wednesday at the elementary school for a Common Core presentation. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)
The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District held a Common Core meeting Wednesday at the elementary school. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Although the opt-out movement appears to be gaining some traction elsewhere on Long Island and in the state, only a handful of parents from school districts within Southold Town are refusing to let their children take upcoming state assessments, local school officials have confirmed. 

As of last week, Greenport and Mattituck-Cutchogue school district officials received notification from parents that one student in each district has declined taking the English Language Arts tests, scheduled for April 1-3, and the math assessments, being given April 30-May 2.

Southold school Superintendent David Gamberg said in an interview last week that fewer than 10 students in his district opted out of the assessments last year. This time around, he said, the district expects only a couple of students to sit out of the exam.

Administrators in the one-school Oysterponds district said they hadn’t received any such requests from parents and New Suffolk school officials did not return messages seeking comment.

The opt-out movement that’s growing elsewhere in Suffolk County comes amid increasing scrutiny of standardized testing as a means of improving teacher and student performance under the rigorous Common Core State Standards. And within that movement, some complaints have arisen about what’s being referred to as “sit and stare,” which occurs when students who are not taking a test are made to just stare at a desk while the test is administered to others, rather than being allowed to read a book or move to another classroom.

Mr. Gamberg and other local school officials said such practices would not happen here.

“If a parent contacts the school and legitimately makes a request, we are going to honor the parent’s request,” Mr. Gamberg said. “We understand there are protocols to be followed and our interpretation is going to rest on what we think is going to be a wise and appropriate determination that will not put the student in a position that would require them to be made to feel that they are going to have to make that very awkward decision.”

During a parent forum last Wednesday to discuss how Common Core is being implemented in Mattituck, assistant superintendent and elementary school principal Anne Smith and high school principal Shawn Petretti gave a presentation to explain how students are learning to become independent learners and how teachers are working collaboratively across subjects and grade levels to achieve the standards. (Visit the district’s website to view the presentation.)

Both educators expressed support for the standards themselves, while voicing concern about the state’s rollout out of the academic goals.

Mr. Petretti said he understands parents’ frustrations with the state assessments, but believes students should practice getting used to taking the exams, which they’ll need to pass in order to graduate.

The state Board of Regents, the appointed body that crafts public education policies for schools in New York State, announced last month that it will delay the tougher Common Core-aligned high school graduation requirements by five years. That would make the Class of 2022 — not the Class of 2017, as originally planned — the first in the state to graduate under the new standards.

Starting this year, Mr. Petretti said, ninth-graders will be tested on algebra through both the new Common Core test and the Regents exam, which is being phased out and replaced by the Common Core test. The lower score will be dropped and the higher score will appear on the student’s transcript, he said.

Cutchogue parent Nicole Brewer, whose daughters are in fourth and fifth grades, said she noticed that her younger daughter experienced test anxiety last year, but still plans to have her sit for the assessments again.

“She was very freaked out — didn’t sleep, didn’t eat — because it was the first big test,” Ms. Brewer recalled. “I just asked her tonight about how she feels about Common Core and she said, ‘Mom, it’s just a test. It doesn’t mean anything to me. It hurts the school if I do bad, so I’m going to try and do well and finish.’ ”

The standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, in trying to better prepare students in every state for college and post-high school careers.

The federal government then incentivized adoption of the Common Core on the state level through its Race to the Top grants program, though which New York State received $700 million that was then distributed, in part, to the districts. The state did direct all New York school districts to develop their own teacher evaluation systems tied to assessments, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing state aid.

The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.

Earlier this month, the Democrat-controlled state Assembly passed legislation calling for a two-year moratorium on teacher evaluations tied to student scores, and a one-year delay in the state’s sharing of student information with third-party data company, also a highly controversial component of the initiative.

Following the vote, federal officials warned that New York’s Race To the Top grant could be yanked if the state failed to continue using test scores to rate teachers.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), who is pushing for a three–year moratorium on the entire Common Core program, described the federal grant as “a drop in the bucket” compared to the state’s $142 billion annual budget.

“That’s less than 1 percent,” he said. “The rollout has cost $2.7 billion and schools have borne those costs.”

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) has not had much to say about Common Core and declined to comment this week through a spokesperson.

Mr. Gamberg, one of the more outspoken high-stakes testing critics among superintendents in the region, said he believes the state’s current assessment methods could have a detrimental impact on students in the future because of the controversies surrounding the exams’ purpose and their ability to determine intelligence.

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