North Shore kids still opting out from testing


Students attending the Glen Cove, Oyster Bay, Locust Valley and North Shore school districts are still choosing to opt-out from taking state tests. The opt-out movement, which began as a small grass roots campaign waged on social media in 2014, has grown so much that school administrators have become involved too.

Glen Cove School District Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna said her district has handled the growth of the movement consistently over the past several years.

“We provide parents with information about the change in the assessments over the years and we honor any request for information they require,” she said. “I’ve been supportive of the teachers since the first year I was here. I tell the teachers that it’s not the only way we assess their effectiveness.”

Locust Valley Central School District Superintendent Dr. Anna Hunderfund said parents and administrators went “berserk” when the New York State Department of Education initially developed the exams. She and other district officials met with elected leaders and members of the state’s education department in Albany when the tests were first introduced. They all viewed the increased testing as a “disaster in the making.”

“Educationally and philosophically these exams make no sense,” Hunderfund said. “It just creates a lot of tension for everybody.”

In the Glen Cove School District, 674 students refused to take the English Language Arts exams that were given to students in first grade through eighth grade during the week of March 27. That was the highest number the school has seen since the opt-out movement began.

Kim Velentzas, the vice president of Glen Cove’s Landing School PTA believes the opt-out movement is continuing to grow due to word of mouth. In 2015, only 28 percent of students refused to take the exam in Glen Cove. This year, almost 50 percent opted-out.

Velentzas became involved in the movement about four years ago when her daughter was in the eighth grade. After hearing about the issues a friend was having in another school district, she began to ask questions.

“I did my own research, spoke to parents and teachers,” Velentzas said. “I learned to ask questions and not just blindly trust that everything was okay with our schools.”

Velentzas became the Glen Cove representative for Long Island Opt Out, one of the many nationwide groups aimed at saving public education.

“There is no transparency,” Velentzas said. “As a parent, I never get to see the tests. The teachers aren’t allowed to talk about them, and the results are released months later.”

Vicky Walsh, the former Oyster Bay-East Norwich PTA president, said she understands both sides. “I think my kids need experience — they need to learn how to take a timed test,” she said. “But then you have my son who was so good at math, and there are some children that can put all their efforts in all year and they just don't get math.”

Walsh opted her three children out one year because she felt the teachers would be evaluated based on their performance. “The last two years my kids wanted to take the test, so I let them do it,” she said. “I didn’t feel like they were overwhelmed.”

In the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District, the percentage of students who refused to take the English Language Art exam dropped from the previous year to 40 percent. In 2016, about 43 percent of students opted out.

“We have shared information with our families about the changes to the state tests and the information they provide, while respecting parent/guardian decision-making about test participation for their children,” said Dr. Laura Seinfeld, the superintendent of OBEN schools.

The same number of students in the North Shore Central School District opted-out this year as last year — 50 percent at North Shore Middle School, 25 percent at Glenwood Landing Elementary School, and 30 to 35 percent at Glen Head and Sea Cliff.

“I understand that these are choices parents are making and we are not penalizing students on whether they took the test or not,” said Dr. Ed Melnick, the superintendent of the North Shore School District.

Students that chose not to take the test participated in silent reading in their respective libraries. Because of this alternative, Melnick said the movement isn’t hurting the learning experience in his district.

Courtney Chambers, a parent who has two children in the district said the amount of time students spend on testing is “ridiculous” and that the teachers’ performance should not be based on these tests.

“It just seems really punitive for the teachers and really something that my husband and I don’t approve of,” said Chambers, who is originally from Amsterdam.

She started the Facebook group North Shore Opt Out a few years ago. While the district has been supportive of the movement, she hopes that the tests will be gone by the time her first grader advances to the third grade.