Fariña holds firm on testing, despite mounting pressure from opt-out leaders

As the state’s recent testing changes draw fire from opt-out leaders, the city’s schools chief took a jab at the movement and expressed support for the commissioner’s new measures.

“I am not a fan of opt-out,” said School Chancellor Carmen Fariña about the mass boycott of state assessments at a Senate Education Committee Hearing on Tuesday. “I believe everyone needs challenges. I believe part of the work of kids going to school is learning to meet certain challenges.”

Fariña has criticized parents who refuse to let their children take state exams before. “I don’t believe in opt-out,” she said in August, after the city’s rate of test refusal tripled.

In repeating the criticism, Fariña risks further inflaming a small but vocal subset of city parents. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has tried to placate parents statewide—who opted out of tests at a higher rate than in the city—by making some changes to the state’s testing program.

Those changes included reducing the number of test questions and giving students unlimited time to finish tests. But opt-out leaders said they were not satisfied and warned that without further changes the number is bound to grow this year.

The warning comes as opt-out leaders are taking an increasingly active role in state politics. A few hours after Fariña’s testimony, opt-out leaders endorsed 15 candidates for the two open spots on the Board of Regents, the state’s education policymaking body. Each candidate provided resume, answered survey questions and sat for an interview to earn an endorsement.

Yet Fariña indicated that she plans to stick to her earlier statements about opt-out and supports Elia’s plan to switch to unlimited test time — even though some people who work in schools say could make tests even more complicated to administer.

“You took away the time pressure, which I think was a big stumbling block,” Fariña said. “For third graders to sit there that long and then feel that they have to watch a clock does cause stress, so I do think we’re in a much better place for that.”