Superintendent Opt-Out "Tool-Kit"
As hundreds of thousands of parents are refusing participation in NYS standardized tests, school Superintendents are sometimes left wondering how they should handle this in their own school district. Parent groups across the state have developed easy to use procedures to opt-out of NYS tests. Now that the process has become mainstream, we have also developed some easy to use procedures for Superintendents. Below is a simple 'Tool-Kit' for school Superintendents to use regarding opting-out of NYS Grade 3-8 Tests so that the healthiest possible relationships can be maintained with parents:
1.) NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia has made it easy. In 2015, she said that parents “absolutely” have the right to opt their kids out of state standardized tests (http://wxxinews.org/post/ed-comm-says-parents-have-right-opt-out-their-kids-tests).
As a school Superintendent, inform parents that the Commissioner acknowledges their absolute right to opt-out of NYS tests. If you hesitate to make it a personal statement, then simply refer to the Commissioner's quote to protect yourself. Here is an example from school Superintendent Michael Hynes of Patchogue-Medford School District. He states that, "We are required to offer the tests to everyone, but students are not required to take them." (http://pmschools.org/files/news/opt%20out%20-%202015-2016%20--%20english%20and%20spanish.pdf)
2.) NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia has made it clear in 2015 that “We haven’t done enough communication, but if parents understand it and they still want their child to opt out, that certainly is their right.” (http://wxxinews.org/post/ed-comm-says-parents-have-right-opt-out-their-kids-tests)
As a school Superintendent, communicate with parents and educate parents about the importance of the opt-out movement. As Superintendent you should not directly advise parents to opt-out, but, rather, protect yourself and educate parents at the same time by simply referring parents to www.nysape.org where they can get all the information they need about the necessity of the opt-out movement as a means of protecting our children.
3.) Maintain healthy relationships with parents. There has been great dissent between parents and school officials in recent years largely due to NYSED forcing testing on parents and children. NYSED has finally acknowledged that, not only do parents 'absolutely' have the right to opt-out, but that also funding will NOT be lost. (ESSA regulations are being finalized, but we anticipate no penalties for refusing the state tests) (http://www.lohud.com/story/news/education/2015/08/22/no-optout-penalties/32191663/).
As a school Superintendent, thank parents for submitting their opt-out letter, and assure parents that their rights are respected and appreciated. These relationships will heal as change happens.
4.) Create a comfortable, healthy, and rich learning environment on test days for students that refuse NYS tests. This goes a long way to building strong and healthy relationships with parents. Most school districts have abolished the abusive and punitive 'sit-and-stare' policy that created so much anger among parents. Many districts have gone above and beyond by creating alternative learning environments for students that do not participate in NYS tests.
As a school Superintendent, provide refusal students with an alternate environment on testing days that fosters learning. Depending on the resources available to your school district, this may simply be providing reading materials for students or it may be providing instruction.
5.) Parent groups across the state regularly conduct seminars on opting-out of NYS tests. The seminars discuss the reasons for opting-out and the importance of opting-out. They provide research, expert opinions, and testimonials.
As a school Superintendent, attend one of these programs in your area to gain a fuller understanding of the parent point of view and to cultivate relationships with parents. You can find events like these at www.nysape.org
The relationship between the parent and the school has a common core. That 'core' is the child, not the test or the curriculum. Relationships between parents and schools will heal as testing and curriculum are removed from the core and children once again become the core of our schools.