Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
New York State is required by federal law to administer math and ELA (English Language Arts) tests to every public school student in 3rd-8th grade. However, it is your right as a parent to refuse these tests on behalf of your child.
You can find NY’s testing schedule HERE
HOW TO REFUSE ("Opt Out" of) THE STATE TESTS
Q: I have decided to opt my child out. What do I need to do?
Write a letter or email to your principal letting them know that you intend to “refuse” the tests on behalf of your child. You can write your own letter or use our sample letter. (If you choose to write your own letter, we recommend using the word “refuse” because technically there is no provision for “opting out.”) If you email, request that the principal acknowledge receipt of your email. We have heard that some NYC parents are being told they cannot print out a form letter like our sample letter. If this happens to you, ask to see where this rule appears in writing from from the NYC DOE or New York State Education Department. If you are shown something, please ask for a copy or take a picture and send it to us.)
Make arrangements with your child’s teacher and/or principal for what your child will do during the testing days. Most schools will have non-testing children read, write, or draw quietly either in their classroom or in a separate location like the library. Some will send children to help out in lower grades. If the school has large numbers of children opting out, the school day may proceed more or less normally, with the few children who are testing sent to a separate location. Bottom line: You do not have to keep your child home in order to refuse the tests.
Q: I was told that I am required to meet with the principal if I want to opt out. Is that true?
You are not required to meet with the principal or anyone else in order to opt out. As a parent, it is your right to refuse the tests on behalf of your child; you don’t need to justify your decision to anyone. The NYC Department of Education (NYCDOE) instructs principals to offer such meetings (possibly hoping that the principal can talk the parent out of refusal), but there is no law or regulation that requires parents to attend, and in fact this would be discriminatory. Send a polite excuse if you wish, but don’t go.
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 (and who were not intending to refuse the tests). 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 Fact Sheet 17-5: Facts for Parents on Opting Out of State Tests, which clearly states that the State Education department no longer questions a parent's right to opt out of state tests. If that is not effective, contact us and we will try to assist you.
Q: What if I refuse permission for my child to take the test but the school makes my child take it anyway?
Parents should inform the principal of the situation as soon as possible. The school should enter into the computer that there was a “misadministration” of the test. The student should not be given a score, whether or not the answer sheet has already been scanned into the computer.
If you are challenged, contact us and we will try to assist you.
TEST REFUSAL & STUDENTS
Q: Will students who refuse the tests be subject to any negative consequences (being scored a level 1 , held back, banned from extracurricular activities, denied services, etc.)?
Legally, there are absolutely no consequences for students who refuse the assessments. Students who refuse will be coded as “not tested” and will not receive a score. Please refer to questions below if you are told otherwise or are wondering about a specific alleged consequence.
Q: Will opting out stop my child from getting into a good middle or high school?
This question, and the anxiety it generates, gets to the heart of why many NYC parents are reluctant to opt out. But there’s good news: while many parents have been conditioned to believe that absence of a test score will harm their child’s chances in the admissions game, there is no evidence that this is the case. To the contrary, we have school officials on the record saying that they do not look at test scores when making enrollment decisions and/or that they have workarounds for students without scores. There are principals who report that test scores are not the determining factor for their students’ placements at the next level; some high-scoring students don’t get into their first choices while some low scorers do.
- State law specifies that the New York state test scores cannot be the sole or primary criterion in the admissions rubric. Every NYC middle and high school is required to have an admissions formula (called a “rubric”) approved by the DOE. In many cases, schools don’t use state test scores in their rubrics at all. (This includes all New York City specialized high schools, for example.)
- There are many reasons besides test refusal why students might not have NY state scores: they moved here recently, they went to private school, they were ill during both test administration and makeup days. Accordingly, the admissions rubric must include information about how the school addresses students who don’t have New York state test scores. In most cases, schools that ordinarily include scores as part of their rubrics will simply increase the weight given to report card grades and/or attendance or behavior when a student has no scores to report. (Parent volunteers have surveyed a number of city middle and high schools to find out how they address lack of state test scores. See the results for yourself: (High School Survey, Middle School Survey)
- Students have been refusing the tests in New York City, in growing numbers, for upwards of 7 years now. They have received offers to a variety of the city’s middle and high schools, including its most sought after. This is true even for students who refused the tests in 4th or 7th grade. (Scores from those years are generally the only ones considered in admissions rubrics—and, as noted above, schools have workarounds for students who lack scores.)
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 formal connection between your child’s IEP and the state tests. In making your opt out decision for your child with an IEP, you may find it useful to know that the tests are generally not sensitive enough to measure the progress made by children with disabilities; in 2017 New York state tests labeled approximately 90% of children with disabilities as failing (“not proficient”).*
Many parents and educators believe that the tests are particularly damaging for children who are dramatically below grade level. An example from one special education teacher: “Take the case of a 4th grader who reads on a 1st grade level due to dyslexia. It is really upsetting for that child to sit for hours with a test booklet labeled ‘4th Grade;’ she knows it is much too hard for her, but also that her teachers and parents expect her to complete it. In addition, that particular test cannot measure any progress which she may have made toward the goals of her IEP because its starting point wasn’t appropriate for her.”
Q: Will boycotting the tests interfere with my child’s promotion or put her at risk for being sent to summer school?
Some principals have told parents that children who do not take state tests will not be promoted or must attend summer school. This is not true. State law specifies that standardized test scores cannot be the sole or even primary criterion for promotion. Assessments from the entire school year are considered when discussing progress and readiness for the next grade, and families should be informed of student progress throughout the school year.
If promotion were in doubt, that information should have been entered into the system in January and shared with families by February. (In other words, well before the administration of the tests.) If there is a pre-existing concern about a child’s promotion, 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 2017 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.”)
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 and we will try to assist you.
Q: I heard that under the new federal education law (ESSA) my child will be scored a 1 (the lowest score) if she opts out. Is that true?
On the level of the individual student nothing has changed under ESSA. As in previous years, student transcripts will show no score for refusers. (Schools use these transcripts for purposes of NYC middle or high school admissions.)
TEST REFUSAL & SCHOOLS
Q: I’ve heard that if a large number of students opt out, our school could lose money. Is this true?
Threats about loss of funding are trotted out every testing season. Yet no school that we know of has had funding taken away even though more than 90% of NYS school districts failed to achieve the 95% participation rate mandated by the federal government. (The original purpose of the 95% rule was to ensure that schools did not selectively exclude low-performing students from testing; it had nothing to do with parents exercising their rights to boycott the tests.) Moreover, because of the high refusal rate in New York, it is extremely unlikely that schools or districts would ever be financially sanctioned; it would be political suicide to try to penalize so many schools simultaneously.
But what about the “Reward Schools” program? In her efforts to suppress test refusal, the outgoing NYC Schools Chancellor liked to refer to this program in which Title 1 schools (i.e. schools where at least 60% of the students live in poverty) that met the 95% participation threshold had the opportunity to apply for—but not a guarantee to receive—a (relatively modest) financial grant. The state never publicized its grant winners, so it is possible no eligible school ever applied for the grant—the application requires a lot administrative and staff time to prepare—much less won it. But even more to the point, the Reward School program no longer exists. Under the ESSA law, there is now a “Recognition School” program, but the state hasn’t yet defined how a school earns that designation and whether any financial award will be associated with it. (The state’s “Blue Ribbon Schools,” for example, receive a certificate but no money.)
At any rate, it could be argued that these threats of financial sanction for opt out are meaningless when our schools are already having money withheld: after more than a decade New York State still owes city schools nearly $2 billion dollars awarded by the courts in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.
Q: Is it true that under the new federal education law (ESSA) opt outs will be calculated as 1s (the lowest score) when rating schools?
Yes and no; there are now two ways to rate a school or district for “accountability.” (Note: For the remainder of this answer “school” will stand in for either “school” or “district.”) The school will receive a final rating based on whichever of the two formulas makes the school look best. The first formula includes all students at a school whether or not they took the test. Schools get credit or partial credit only for those students who scored a 2 or above. This means that students who opted out (or missed the tests for illness or other reasons) and students who score 1s are effectively equivalent in the formula— and why you may have heard that "opt outs are scored as 1s." Technically they are not, but in effect they are. Again this is ONLY for school/district “accountability,” NOT at the level of the individual student.
This first formula creates a problem for the state because opt out is so widespread that if this were the only measure used, nearly every school in the state would appear to be "failing." Therefore, a second formula (the Core Subject Performance Index) was added to the ESSA plan so that a school that is otherwise "high performing" would not appear to be failing solely due to opt out. Formula two creates the rating based only on the scores of students who actually took the test.
Q: I’ve heard that if a large number of students opt out, our school could be taken over by the state. Is this true?
The bottom 5% of schools can indeed be taken over (sent into “receivership”) by the state. However, the state has purposely created an accountability formula (the Core Subject Performance Index) meant to ensure that any school that is “otherwise high performing” cannot be judged as failing and a target for takeover solely due to high opt out. (For more on accountability formulas, see the previous question.)
Q: What happens to my kid’s school if more than 5% of the students refuse the tests?
If more than 5% of students do not take the tests, the school will not have met the 95% participation goal set by federal law. (Actually, even if the school has 95% participation overall, it can fail to meet its goal if it does not have 95% participation in a specific “subgroup” determined by race, income, etc.)
When a school fails to meet participation goals, the state requires it to initiate a multi-step plan. The first step of the plan is to determine why students did not take the test: Were they ill? Did they refuse? Or did the school (or district) purposely exclude some students from taking the exam? The state is calling this last reason “institutional exclusion.” If it is determined that low participation was the result of institutional exclusion, then the following year the school would have to take the next step in the plan.
The multi-step plan to address low participation is brand new as of 2018. We do not yet know exactly how the state will ask schools to prove they did not engage in institutional exclusion, but we are certain that parent-initiated test refusal cannot be classified as such. New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), of which NYC Opt Out is a member, will be closely tracking developments in this area and we will update this answer as needed as we learn more.
TEST REFUSAL & TEACHERS
Q: If high-performing students opt out of the tests, will it lower the evaluation scores of their teachers?
This one is complicated, but the short answer is: definitely not this year or next year and probably not in the future. The longer answer: NY state law ties the “growth” students make on state tests from one year to the next to teachers’ evaluations. However, this year and next (2018 & 2019) as in the last few years, the state has agreed not to enforce the law (“the moratorium”). Accordingly, a teacher’s 2018 (and 2019) evaluation will not reflect student exam performance. However, in order to show “growth,” this year’s scores could potentially be used to evaluate teachers when the moratorium ends in 2020; the law is unclear. As for “high-performing” students in particular: First, a strong student in the classroom will not necessarily be a high performer on the tests. Second, students who do have a history of performing well on the tests may have little room for test-score growth; they may even hurt a teacher’s score due to a “ceiling effect.”