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Long Island Remains Hotbed Of The Opt-Out Movement

Carolyn Thompson
Students hold signs in favor of opting out of state assessments during a visit by New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in 2016.

Nearly 50 percent of eligible students on Long Island have opted out of the statewide English Language Arts exam this year. It's the fifth year in a row that students have opted out in large numbers.

The ELA exam is a statewide assessment for students in grades three through eight. Since the test was revamped for the Common Core in 2014, it has become a subject of controversy among many parents, teachers and students, who say the test is not an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the classroom.

This year, 40.7 percent of students in Nassau County and 56.4 percent of students in Suffolk County opted out of the ELA exam, according to a report by Newsday.

West Babylon, Middle Country and Seaford were among 10 school districts in Suffolk that recorded opt-out rates higher than 60 percent. And a school district in Port Jefferson Station hit an opt-out rate of 90.3 percent.

But districts in other parts of the state rarely record opt-outs higher than 40 percent.

According to Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt-Out, that’s because parents in other areas don’t know their children don't have to take the test. “One of my biggest issues was the fact that the Board of Regents did not give clear guidelines to superintendents and to parents about opting out,” Deutermann said. She believes Long Island has been a hotbed for the opt-out movement over the past few years because the school districts have made parents aware of the option not to take the tests.

In response to concerns from parents, teachers, and students, this year New York State officials shortened the ELA exam from three to two consecutive days. But Deutermann says all that did was give students fewer days to take the same test.

“Instead of average being about an hour and a half, you had kids mostly sitting for at least three hours and some even sitting for as long as six hours...and these are 8-year-olds.”

Deutermann acknowledges that the State Education Department has implemented incremental changes to the tests over the last few years, but there’s a long way to go before parents, teachers, and students on Long Island will be satisfied.

“All the teachers we’ve talked to say the minute they laid eyes on this assessment, it was clear that there was something wrong,” she said.

The next statewide assessment will be a math test scheduled for early next month.