Nearly one in five New York students in grades 3-8 refused to take Common Core-aligned standardized tests this year, according to data released Wednesday by the state. The figures confirm that last spring saw the biggest revolt yet against what critics say is an excessive regimen of high-stakes, time-consuming standardized tests.
Since last spring, it has been known that thousands of students were refusing tests, but until now the exact number had primarily been guesswork based on anecdotal reports. The more concrete information about opt-outs was released Wednesday morning, when New York officials announced the passage rates on last spring’s New York State Testing Program exams. Of those who did take the tests, only 31 percent passed the reading test and 38 percent passed the math test.
Despite being very low, those passage rates are a slight improvement from last year. While passage rates are way down from those on the test it was using prior to 2013, today’s tests are also much harder, making a direct comparison inadequate. The tests New York is currently using are considered among the hardest in the country.
Also obscuring stats is the sky-high 20 percent opt-out rate– roughly quadruple the number that opted out last year and amounting to some 200,000 students. The distribution of opt-outs was very uneven across the state. In New York City proper, almost nobody refused tests, but just a few miles away in Long Island entire cities saw over 50 percent of their students defy exams. With so many students refusing to take tests, it’s hard to tell whether New York genuinely improved or fell behind compared to last year.
And that may all be according to plan. Unionized teachers in New York have been upset about plans to evaluate teachers based on test scores, and they also promoted boycotting the tests. After Wednesday’s announcement, they quickly moved to argue that the results were totally unreliable.
“It would be a huge mistake to read anything into these test results,” Karen Magee, head of the New York State United Teachers, said in a statement. “Whether they’re up or down, they tell us virtually nothing meaningful about students or their teachers.”
The “student strike” could have significant consequences for the state. Federal No Child Left Behind law requires states to test at least 95 percent of eligible students or else risk possible federal sanctions. In April, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vaguely warned that if states don’t do enough to ensure students take tests, “we [the federal government] have an obligation to step in.” What form a federal intervention might take, if it comes at all, is not clear. (RELATED: Obama Admin Might Force Kids To Take Tests)
But if the federal government tries to force children to take tests, it could simply inflame anti-testing sentiments and cause mass boycotts to spread elsewhere. While several other states saw a few thousand students refuse tests, currently New York is the only one where opt-outs have reached a critical mass where they are strongly distorting overall test results.
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