Final 'opt-out' numbers show movement jumped in city

Much of the past five days have been spent picking apart the performance of 410,000 city students who took this year’s state tests. On Tuesday, city and state education officials provided more details about those who didn’t.

About 4,700 city students did not take this year’s English tests and 15,470 students didn’t take the math exams, according to an updated tally released by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. The totals include 1,925 students whose protesting parents opted their children out of taking the tests, a 450 percent increase over last year.

More than 10,400 of those who didn’t take the math test were eighth-graders who took a high school-level math Regents exam instead, thanks to a new state policy meant to avoid overtesting.

The updated figures follow a confusing initial release of data showing that more than 22,000 city students didn’t take the English tests and 26,000 didn’t take the math tests—numbers that were immediately called into question. After a few days of fact-checking and data-sharing between the two education agencies, state spokesperson Dennis Tompkins said those numbers erroneously included thousands of private school and home-schooled students.

Even with those figures deflated, the number of students who didn’t take this year’s state tests has jumped.

A relatively small number of students don’t participate in state tests every year for reasons including long-term absences or illnesses. But an increasing number aren’t taking the exams for political reasons.

Parents who are a part of the “opt-out” movement chose to keep their students from taking the exams in opposition to the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards or to the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, school grades, and student promotion decisions. (This role of this year’s tests in all of those consequences has been reduced because of recent legislative action.)

Though the movement grew fastest in districts outside of New York City, the newest numbers indicate that it is now entrenched in city public schools. Two years ago, just 113 students opted out, and 356 did last year.

In a statement, a city spokeswoman noted that the students who opted out were still a tiny fraction of tested students.

“Less than one-half of one percent of students in grades 3-8 opted to not take the State math and ELA tests this year,” said the spokeswoman, Devora Kaye. “Listening closely to all student and parent voices is a top priority of our administration, and this is no exception. We continue to listen carefully to all families’ concerns, and we also continue to engage students, parents, and school communities to explain how the tests can play a valuable role in our most important goal: improving learning in the classroom.”