Shelter Island students exceed opt-out test threshold

JULIE LANE PHOTO Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik says the federal governemnt is threatening states to take action against districts where fewer than 95 percent of eligible students took Common Core standardized tests.

JULIE LANE PHOTO Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik says the federal governemnt is threatening states to take action against districts where fewer than 95 percent of eligible students took Common Core standardized tests.

Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik is weighing the chances that his district could see a cut in state aid due to the number of students who opted not to take Common Core standardized English and math tests this spring.

This year’s numbers are close to those of last spring, with 46 percent of eligible students opting out of the English test compared with 47 percent in 2015. There were 42 percent of eligible students who opted out of the math test, compared with 44 percent who didn’t take the test last year.

Legislation introduced by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Patchogue) and passed to keep states from penalizing school districts that had a significant number of students opting out didn’t stop the federal government from interceding.

The United States Department of Education recently sent letters to the chiefs of all state education departments warning that at least 95 percent of eligible students must take the tests or there could be consequences.

In the latest letter, the U.S. Department of Education is asking state education department chiefs what action they plan to take against those districts where fewer than 95 percent of students took the tests.

Among the options would be serious consequences such as cutting Title I federal funds — financial assistance to schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families — or cutting all funding coming from state and federal governments. A lesser fear, but still what Mr. Skuggevik regards as a “threat,” is educational agencies keeping a list of districts that don’t hit the 95 percent threshold for possible punitive action in some other way.

“No one’s making 95 percent — or very few if any,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

What’s more, it’s not school districts that offered parents the right to allow their children to opt out of the testing, it was the state, the superintendent said.

“They just didn’t think anybody was going to do it,” he said. “But parents are becoming a large part of what is the democratic process and if the government doesn’t listen, they’re going to find a greater growth” in the number of students who don’t take the Common Core tests, he predicted.

Many requests Mr. Skuggevik received from parents asking that their children be allowed to opt out of Common Core tests came on form letters the parents found via the Internet. He hasn’t received much feedback from the parents, but suspects many reasons are behind their decisions.

Some may worry the tests create too much stress for their children. Others don’t want the state to have the results of their children’s tests. Whatever the reason, Mr. Skuggevik said he respects each parent’s right to make the decision.

“We’re getting too clinical with numbers,” Mr. Skuggevik said. “Children aren’t experimental.”

While he said he truly believes in assessments, the amount of standardized testing that goes on today is too extensive.

Teachers and administrators are regularly assessing students’ abilities and progress without an increase in standardized testing, he said. He’s confident his teachers know which students are excelling and which need extra assistance.

This year, districts will see two reports — one linking teacher evaluations to student scores and the other not linking them.

Shelter Island teachers need not be concerned, Mr. Skuggevik said, because last year, all were judged effective or highly effective when the student scores were linked to their own evaluations.

“My teachers know more about these kids than tests will ever tell us,” he added.

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