The growing number of elementary and middle school students boycotting state assessments has Orchard Park school officials worrying about potential negative consequences for the district since its test refusal rate ran high last spring, particularly at its Middle School.
School Board members and administrators did not mince words Tuesday night as they examined test results in certain subject areas for various grade levels, and observed that the large number of students who refused to take the tests or even opted out of a few days of them will undoubtedly hurt the district in the state’s eyes.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Lisa Krueger said she expects the high test-refusal rate of this past spring to impact the district by next fall. “There wouldn’t be a loss of funding, but a loss of local control and more oversight by the state,” Krueger said in an interview after a lengthy presentation. “We lose the ability to drive our local program. It’s not good to lose local control.”
Krueger and others said it is unfortunate because they feel many parents do not fully realize the impact of their children not taking the tests and what that can mean for local districts.
In Orchard Park’s case, between 20 percent and 25 percent of Middle School students refused to take the assessments, depending on the grade level and subject, particularly in math. And, yet, South Davis Elementary School showed only about a 5 percent opt-out rate. Test refusals at the elementary level ranged between 4 percent to around 20 percent across the district.
“I think the refusals had a far-reaching consequence on our district, and others, that we don’t even know about yet,” Superintendent Matthew McGarrity said. “We’re just trying to get our arms around it now.”
McGarrity said that local superintendents – through Erie BOCES districts 1 and 2 – are discussing the test-refusal issue. He reiterated how state education officials still have not been clear with districts on how to handle children refusing to take the tests, which are given in grades three through eight.
Some board members said their children heard other students say after one day of testing that they didn’t need to take the tests, and the district struggled to juggle the last-minute notification by many parents of their children not taking the assessments – many of them telling the district on the morning of the test.
That may change in Orchard Park for next spring’s batch of state tests. The administration on Tuesday announced it is considering imposing an announced deadline for parents to notify the district of their child’s planned test refusal. Even though the district cannot force a child to take a test, it could insist that students not meeting the notification deadline, be required to sit in the classroom while the test is administered to participating students.
“We’ve been looking ahead, to try to get notice from parents and have a deadline [to notify] the district to opt out, or else they’ll sit” for the test, McGarrity said.
In some local districts, it led to what critics called “sit and stare” and stirred significant controversy in districts such as Lancaster.
“We don’t want to punish our kids that way,” Krueger said, but she noted that 1,200 students attend Orchard Park Middle School. “Those ‘morning of’ surprises don’t allow us to provide accommodations any more,” she said.