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Growing Number of Parents Want Students to Opt Out of High-Stakes State Tests

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It's almost time for students to take the annual, high-stakes state tests, and though Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants to diminish the role test scores play, many schools are still focusing on test prep, and a growing number of parents say they want out altogether. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

P.S. 221 in Brooklyn hosted a free after-school program, run by a volunteer, that provided dance lessons and homework help five days a week. But a few weeks ago, the principal suddenly canceled it.

"She said it wasn't up for discussion. The kids needed to focus on test preparation," said parent Jessica Bello.

In less than two weeks, students in grades three through eight will begin to taking the state standardized tests. In the past decade, federal, state and city policies have tied student test scores to a variety of important decisions, like teachers' ratings and whether schools are closed.

In New York, this will be the second year that students face much more difficult exams, based on new learning standards called the Common Core.

Last year, scores plummeted. In the city, just 30 percent of students were judged proficient in math and 26 percent of students in reading.

"It's just gotten out of control. Nobody's against one test a year, but not a high-stakes test," said Brian Leavy-DeVale, the principal at P.S. 257, who's involved in a small, but growing, movement of educators and parents who support opting out of the state tests.

In 2012, there were 113 students in the city who opted out. A year later, that number nearly tripled, with 320 students sitting out the tests.

This year, there may be considerably more. Several schools are encouraging participation, including P.S. 257 in Williamsburg, Institute for Collaborative Education in Manhattan and the Brooklyn New School. District-wide meetings, like one on Wednesday, walk parents through the process.

Although the tests are officially required by the city and state, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have both spoken out against the pressures of high-stakes exams. Schools will no longer get letter grades, which were based in large part on test scores, and officials want to change the policy requiring students be held back if they fail.

"To the degree we can make it more reasonable and sensible, we will," Fariña said.

On Tuesday, in her weekly memo to principals, the chancellor told the story of a teacher who didn't think she could take her students on field trips because they needed to prepare for the tests. Fariña wrote that "preparing for life is living it" and asked principals to keep test prep to a minimum.

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