Decline in students opting out of tests reported

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Declining numbers of students opting out of taking state tests for grades 3-8 were again reflected in state math assessments last week at several local school districts, continuing a trend from English Language Arts (ELA) tests in April. Among districts citing improvements in student participation on state math assessments that were administered last week:

• In the Rome school district, “the overall opt-out for elementary schools was 22 percent for the math assessment....Far better than years past,” district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said Tuesday.

A year ago, the Rome district’s rate of student opt-outs who did not take the math test was 41 percent at the elementary-grade level.

For the four elementary schools identified earlier this year by the state as needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), Blake said the latest math test opt-out rates included 24.5 percent at Denti; 28.5 percent at Gansevoort; 20.5 percent at Joy; 16.25 percent at Staley. The CSI designations, which have included state on-site evaluations of the schools, were based on factors including students’ academic performance. Blake has said low student participation rates on prior state assessment tests were responsible for the CSI designations.

In April, Blake had said the Rome district’s participation rate for the ELA test included 81 percent of students at the elementary-grade level, compared to a 37 percent elementary-grade opt-out rate a year ago.

• The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill school district’s student participation rate on the math test was at 87 percent, compared to 74 percent last year, said district Director of Student Programs and Communications Sondra Whalen. She had also cited a reduction in opt-outs for the ELA test in April.

• In the Westmoreland school district, “we were down to only 17 percent total,” Superintendent Rocco Migliori said regarding the math test opt-out rate among students. He added “it’s down substantially,” and in April had said the ELA test opt-outs were down significantly as well.

In recent years, many school districts across the state had been seeing significant numbers of students not taking the tests due to opt-out decisions by parents, regarding various objections to the tests. But district officials have emphasized the state Education Deaprtment has made multiple changes and improvements in the state testing; among them have been reducing the number of test days, not linking the test results to teacher evaluations, and getting teacher input for writing the test questions.

Whalen said in April that VVS district officials believe the increased test participation relates to significant state-level changes in response to parent, teacher and student concerns. Migliori said the state Education Department “heard the message loud and clear” and has worked hard on test revisions.

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