Opting Out of the State Tests: The NYC DOE Issues New Opt-Out Guidelines for the ELA and Math Assessments

3/30/14 - By Raven Snook

Last year, when the New York State Education Department decided to overhaul the ELA and Math Assessments to be more in line with the Common Core standards, there was a huge outcry. Teachers and parents alike complained that students weren't adequately prepared for the tougher tests and some families decided to have their kids skip the exams all together even though the NYC Department of Education refused to officially acknowledge opting out. Now that has changed.

Less than a week before the ELA Assessments, which begin on Tuesday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has updated the New York State Tests Parent Guide with opting out guidelines. So families who don't want their children to take the ELA or Math Assessments have a clear course of action. We've got the details on how to opt out and the implications it has for your child.


If you don't want to wade through the three-page New York State Tests Parent Guide, education activist Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, has the highlights on her blog. It's important to note that the Guide still says "there is no provision in the State statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests or request an alternative evaluation." However, there's a new section that states:

What should a principal do if parents express an interest in opting their children out of the State exams?
The principal should offer to meet with the parents to discuss their concerns... If, after consulting with the principal, the parents still want to opt their child out of the exams, the principal should respect the parents' decision and let them know that the school will work to the best of their ability to provide the child with an alternate educational activity (e.g., reading) during testing times.

Are parents required to use specific language when opting out of the State tests?
There is no formal provision allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests. If you are considering opting your child out of the State tests, please speak with your child’s principal about the implications of not participating in advance of the test dates.

What happens after test administration if a student refuses to participate in State testing?
Students who do not participate will not receive a score, similar to students who were present for the exam but did not respond to any questions.

Of course the big question most parents have is how does opting out affect a student when it comes to grade promotion and middle school admissions? In lieu of the tests, "promotion portfolio assessments will be prepared based on specified exercises that assess students’ proficiency. Results will be reviewed by the teacher, principal and then by the superintendent, who makes a final determination based upon standard benchmarks." So it's not just as simple as skipping the tests—the student, teacher and principal must do a lot of extra work. As for middle school applications, it really depends on the institution. Some put a lot of weight on the ELA and Test Assessment scores, others don't.

For anyone who's been following the opt-out movement in articles like this great one from New York Magazine last November, there really isn't a lot of new information here beyond the fact that the DOE is officially acknowledging opting out. However, the rumor is that even more NYC public school students will opt out this year than in 2013, and political orgs Time Out From Testing and Change the Stakes are encouraging families to do so. The former has an opt-out form letter parents can give to principals and the latter has a step-by-step guide for how to opt out and even offers assistance with the process.

So should families opt out? That's a super-personal decision that only individual parents can answer. My daughter is in third grade so this will be her first experience with high-stakes testing. My husband and I spoke at length with her teacher and our school principal, and mulled over our decision for almost a year before we opted to let her take the tests. The fact is, she's already sat through all the test prep (which is mercifully brief at her school), and since the third grade test scores don't count toward middle school admission, why not wait and see how she does rather than freak out and assume the worst? Even though the assessments are stressful so is creating a portfolio. And if the teachers and principal are not on board (see that NY Mag piece), it could cause even more anxiety.

I think everything our founder Anna said in her No-Panic Guide to NY State ELA and Math Assessments post last year still stands: "As much as we may hate the high-stakes nature of the New York State Assessments, kids have to take them... We can call for policy change, but in the meantime, our kids are dealing with these new tests now. As parents, we need to advocate for our children while staying cool and not increasing their anxiety over the tests... So don't panic. Try to see the assessments as they should be seen, as a tool for assessing how your child is mastering the classroom material."

Still, it's nice to see the NYC DOE admit that parents have the right to opt out if that's what they decide is best.