As Standardized Testing Begins, NYC Officials Urge Parents, Students Not to 'Opt Out'

Annual state standardized testing begins tomorrow for students in third through eighth grades but after 200,000 children opted out of the exams last year, the debate is raging over the value of the tests. City officials say the exams are important and students should take them. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

It was a massive protest — that led to real change.

One out of five students in New York State skipped the standardized tests last year. 

The parents and teachers unions behind the 'opt out' movement said the high stakes exams led to too much test prep at the expense of real learning. They demanded the scores not be used for teacher evaluations, to judge whether schools should be closed or to determine whether students are promoted to the next grade. They wanted shorter tests with students not timed.

The pressure worked. City and state officials made all those changes.

Yet the protesters say they're determined to boost the opt-out numbers even more this year.

"It's not really about winning an issue," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm. "It's really about informing parents about their right to opt out."

Battle lines have been drawn. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chief say students should take the tests.

"You're teaching kids that it's okay not to be able to do the whole work," said Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina. It really is important when you go to school to be accountable for what you're doing."

A coalition of business and advocacy groups is running ads urging parents to 'opt in' — saying without a way to compare school performance, poor black and Hispanic students are more likely to be stuck in failing schools, with no accountability. 

"What it really is about is taking away the information and power that lots of families of color have now to improve the education that their kids get that they did not have ten, fifteen, twenty years ago," said Derrell Bradford of the High Achievement New York Coalition.

But there's been a shift at State Board of Regents, which oversees the exam program. Longtime supporter of the testing, Merryl Tisch, retired as Chancellor and the Regents named Betty Rosa to replace her. Rosa immediately endorsed skipping the exams she now oversees.

 "If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time, yes," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa.

Last year, few parents in the city joined the statewide, opt-out movement. City officials hope that trend continues this year.

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