Where New York City parents can learn about high-stakes testing in New York State and find tools for organizing their school communities
Last updated: March 14, 2017
Adapted from Change the Stakes
Q: Will opting out hurt my child’s school?
No. Students who opt out are scored as a “refusal,” not a zero, so it does not lower the school’s scores.
Q: I’ve heard that if a large number of students opt out, our school could lose money or even be taken over by the state. Is this true?
No school—in the entire United States—has ever lost funding due to opt-out, not even Title I schools with over 50% of students opting out. More than 90% of NYS school districts did not make the 95% participation rate mandated by the feds last year; none of them faced sanctions of any kind. Yet from day one we have heard this threat.
Federal law states that schools must administer tests to 95% of students in grades 3 through 8 to receive federal funding. (The original purpose of this rule was to ensure that schools did not game the system by excluding low-performing students from testing.) But states such as New York are administering the tests to all public school children! The reason many children aren’t taking them is because parents—not school administrators—are boycotting the tests.
Q: If high-performing students opt out of the tests, will it lower the evaluation scores of their teachers?
Due to a moratorium, state test scores will not be used in teacher evaluations until 2019.
When test scores are used, teachers are evaluated based on the growth that students show on tests. Strong students are unlikely to benefit teachers more than struggling students by taking the test. In fact, the highest-performing students, who have little room for test-score growth, are more likely to hurt a teacher’s score due to a “ceiling effect.”
Is it possible that the 10 people who refused the test in any given class changed their teachers’ rating for the worse? Yes. But it is also possible that they benefited or had no effect on that teachers’ rating. The bottom line is that the teacher-evaluation system as it stands is seriously flawed, unpredictable, and a poor indicator of teacher-quality. Boycotting the tests is the most powerful way for parents to let policymakers know that we do not want our children, teachers and schools evaluated in this way.
Q: Will boycotting the tests jeopardize my child’s promotion or put her at risk for being sent to summer school?
State law specifies that standardized test scores cannot be the sole or even primary criterion for promotion. Promotion is based on the teacher’s assessment of whether your child is ready for the next grade. If there is a question about whether to promote a child, the teacher creates a portfolio with samples of the student’s work, which is reviewed by the principal. According to the Department of Education’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), “Schools may not require students to complete a promotion portfolio simply because a student does not take the State test” (p.2). (Other languages here under “Grade 3 to 8 tests.”)
Some principals have told parents that their child will not be promoted or must attend summer school if they do not take the state tests. This is not true. If the principal threatens your child with any negative consequences for refusing the tests, refer him or her to the DOE FAQ. If that is not effective, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Will opting out interfere with my child’s admission to a screened middle or high school?
State test scores can be one factor schools use for admissions, but they cannot be the sole or primary criterion—this is now state law.
Every middle and high school is required to have an admissions rubric approved by the DOE. You can see some same middle school admissions policies here. The rubric specifies how much weight is assigned to each admissions factor, such as test scores, grades, attendance, essays and interviews. The rubric must also include admissions procedures for students without state test scores. Any school should be able to tell you what their admissions criteria are, including how they handle admissions for kids without scores. (Most private school students do not have state test scores, either.)
Q: My child has an IEP. Can I opt out of the tests and still have him fulfill his IEP?
Yes, any student may opt out of the state tests. There is no connection between your child’s IEP and the state tests. In fact, the format of a standardized test may actually conflict with the IEP’s mandates for modified materials and content to meet the learning needs of the student.
Q: I have decided to opt my child out. What do I need to do?
Notify the principal in writing that you intend to “refuse” the tests on behalf of your child. You can find more details and a sample letter here. (Using the word “refuse” is important because, technically, there is no provision for “opting out.”)
The DOE FAQ instructs principals to respect parents’ wishes to opt out and to make every attempt to engage non-testing students in a meaningful educational activity during testing periods (Spanish version; other languages here under “Grades 3 to 8 tests”). Check in with the principal and teacher before the tests begin to confirm the arrangements for testing days. To ensure that your decision to boycott the tests has the greatest impact, please also inform Governor Cuomo and your legislators.
Q: If we refuse the tests, will my child have to take the make up?
No, make-up exams are for children who were absent during the testing period. If you have any concerns about whether the school will respect your right to opt out, make it clear that you are refusing the makeup tests as well.
Q: What if my principal tells me that I am not allowed to refuse the tests, pressures my child to take the test, or treats my child unfairly for refusing?
Many teachers and principals are supportive of students and parents who boycott the tests, but some are not. If you have difficulty, refer your principal to the DOE FAQ. If that is not effective, contact us at email@example.com and we will try to help.
Parents or students who are unfairly mistreated or punished by school officials for refusing the tests should also contact 311 to file a complaint and the Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI), Richard J. Condon, at 212-510-1500. (This office is set up outside of the DOE so that it is truly independent.)
Q: What if I refuse to take the test but the school makes my child take it anyway?
Parents should inform the principals that there was a “misadministration” of the test. The school should enter into the computer that there was a “misadministration” of the test and the student will not be given a score, whether or not the test paper has already been scanned into the computer.
If the parent/guardian is challenged, they should instruct the school administrator to contact Michelle Costa at the Department of Education (DOE): MCosta3@schools.nyc.gov.