North Salem’s ELA opt-out rate on the rise


North Salem, N.Y. - North Salem School District had a 9 percent increase in students whose parents refused to allow their child to take the standardized Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) tests last week, compared to the number of students who did so in 2015.  While 160 students were “opted out” of the ELA exams in 2015, this year 175 students did not participate in the testing.

The largest increase was in the number of test refusals in the eighth grade.  Fifty-six students opted out of the 2016 ELA exams. It was 25 students more than the number students who did not participate in 2015.

“Everybody’s been speculating whether the opt out numbers would be up or down over last year because of the perceived recommendations and changes that were put in place in December,” North Salem Schools Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston said.  “We can’t characterize what the reasons are-why people are opting out-we don’t try to.”

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The North Salem School District has taken a neutral approach on Common Core testing.

“It’s a parent’s decision not to take the test and the reasons are myriad,” Freeston said. “I was surprised, frankly, at the eighth grade increase.”

Jennifer Latterner-Jeter North Salem parent has been opting her son, who is a sixth grader, for the past three years. 

“I’ve been opting him out since the beginning,” said Latterner-Jeter. “I don’t believe in the testing and feel it is unfair, a waste of precious learning time, and puts our children at risk.”

The ELA exams are administered to students in third through eighth grade. The total breakdown of students not taking the 2016 ELA test is:
• Grade 3: 13 (22 percent)
• Grade 4: 24 (25 percent)
• Grade 5: 23 (27 percent)
• Grade 6: 31 (33 percent)
• Grade 7: 23 (31 percent)
• Grade 8: 56 (51 percent)
• District: 536 (33 percent)

The opt-out movement began statewide after the exams were first rolled out in the 2012-2013 school year. The widely unpopular curriculum angered both parents and teachers alike, many of whom questioned its developmental appropriateness. Last year, an estimated 20 percent of students across the state refused to take the tests.
Last year, 86 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade students refused the ELA tests. This year the number was 115.

The State Board of Regents made some changes in this year’s exams. The tests were shorter this time around, there was no time limit for students to complete the exams, and the results were no longer a key factor in teachers’ evaluations.

According to Dr. George Bovino, assistant principal of North Salem Middle/High School, last week many parents opted to keep students home on the day of the exams. Others brought the students in for their first instructional period, which was the fourth period of the day, since the testing was done in the morning. Others came in for the entire day and read books or had other prepared activities with them as they sat in the auditorium under supervision.

“They’ve been wonderful, I must say,” said Bovino, “Really cooperative...they’ve brought things to do and made the best of it.”

Standardized mathematics tests are being administered this week. In the 2014-2015 school year in North Salem, the refusal rate in mathematics was approximately 50 percent with 188 students opting out of the testing.

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