Lancaster elementary students who refuse to take the state English and math tests this spring must remain at their desks while their classmates take the tests, school district officials say.
The students who opt out of the tests will not even be allowed to quietly read during most of the testing period.
And that’s not sitting right with their parents.
“Making an 8- or 9-year-old child sit for 60 minutes and do nothing is child abuse,” said Danielle Haen, a member of a newly formed grass-roots group called Parents for Quality Education. “It’s punishment. All I can think of is they want to punish the kids for refusing to take the test.”
The conflict between Haen and the school administration provides a glimpse at the tension between some Lancaster parents and school officials over the testing.
Strong sentiments by some parents against Common Core standards and standardized testing have buffeted the district, one of the largest in the area.
Lancaster appears to be out in front among area districts in deciding how to handle the students who opt out of the tests, which begin in late April.
Donald A. Ogilvie, district superintendent of Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services overseeing 19 districts, including Lancaster, said he believed Lancaster schools may well be taking the lead on the issue by taking a stance so early.
“Very few districts have focused attention on what do we do with students who don’t take the test,” he said. “I think Lancaster may be taking the lead on this. While they are addressing this issue, I’m not sure all districts feel a need to at this point.”
Haen’s children are too young to take this spring’s tests.
“Next year, my child, who will be in third grade, will never sit for 60 minutes and do nothing. That is a total waste of time,” Haen said. “To do nothing is ridiculous. They could receive instruction.”
Why not let the children read quietly during the entire test time? Haen asked.
Lancaster parent Heidi Indelicato, who has been openly critical of the state testing and Common Core curriculum, wants students not taking the test to be allowed to read during the entire testing period or sent to another room.
“I would like to have seen them be allowed to read at their desk, or be removed (from the classroom),” said Indelicato, another member of the parent group. “We’re not trying to cause disruption, but this is going to cause disruption by having kids stare into thin air for 50 minutes and 70 minutes, in some cases.”
Indelicato said she again will not let her 9-year-old son take the tests.
“He will never take those tests, as long as they’re in place,” she said.
Lancaster Superintendent Michael J. Vallely said district officials sought a compromise with parents who will not let their children take the tests.
“Mothers were asking for kids not taking the test at all to be able to go to the library or principal’s office (to read),” Vallely said. “That is not something we’re going to do. We’re obligated to give every student the test per the state education commissioner.”
Students who opt out will not be allowed to read during most of the test period.
But once the state’s estimated “time on task” – ranging from 40 to 70 minutes of daily standard testing times – has been reached during a given test day, students will be allowed to quietly read during the remaining time. That extra time given to students to finish a test might last about 10 to 20 minutes.
Vallely says the district tried to compromise with parents, though he acknowledged the recent decision may not please some parents.
“We don’t have to let them read at all,” Vallely said. “I asked principals to be consistent.”
Vallely said the district’s recent decision amounts to “a fair compromise.”
“We’ll ride with this for this year, and see how it works out,” he said. “We must not compromise the safety of the assessments. Our job is to give all the kids the tests.”
Last year, just seven students refused to take the state English language arts and math tests.
Parents for Quality Education last month submitted a proposal to the district, requesting that children refusing to take the tests be allowed to either read in the testing classroom during the entire duration of the test or that they be allowed to go to the school library, auditorium or cafeteria to read.
Parents volunteered to supervise the students.
“I don’t think they met us halfway,” Indelicato said. “We offered some things we felt were in the best interests of the children.”
Indelicato said what the district came back with amounts to having the children sit silently for three-quarters of testing time and do nothing.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “I don’t feel the well-being of the children not taking the tests was taken into consideration.”
At a recent Lancaster School Board meeting, when Haen asked about the district’s plans, she was told to look at the administration’s recent decision on the district’s website and to call if she had any questions.
She was not given a clear answer on what administrators decided to do.
Ogilvie said most area districts seem to instead be focusing their immediate efforts on appealing to the Board of Regents about testing concerns.
In some cases, districts are shifting their attention more toward the governor and State Legislature.