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Concern leads to state test opt outs

Concern leads to state test opt outs

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Some parents would give the state math tests a score of zero, saying the curriculum is difficult and too complex for their children’s ages.

As they did with last month’s English language arts tests, parents across the state are opting their children out from taking the state standardized math tests for grades three through eight.

Amanda Bywater of Malta, who has been a music educator herself for about 20 years, said the test questions are long and it can be difficult to determine their objective. The vocabulary is complex, with questions referencing “inverse operations” and “distributive property of multiplication.”

“I actually hired a math tutor because I didn’t feel I could adequately explain the first-grade work to her,” she said, of working with her daughter to prepare for the test.

“I’m lucky. I do have a college education and I do have the means to hire tutors, but a lot of parents don’t and a lot of parents work,” she added.

She is opting out her child, now a third-grader in the Ballston Spa Central School District, because she doesn’t want her to be a “lab rat” for these exams.

“I want her to believe in herself that she’s good at math, that she’s good at English, that she can learn. I want to set her up for success,” Bywater said.

Another Capital Region parent who is opting out, Katie Thimineur of Ballston Spa, said the new math curriculum requires too many steps to solve a simple problem.

“The kids aren’t ready. Their brains aren’t set to learn these ways until later ages,” she said.

Her biggest concern is that student performance on these tests affects teachers’ evaluations — constituting 20 percent of the score. The tests don’t take into account students who are affected by child abuse and other factors, according to Thimineur.

“Our teachers are going to be graded on things that are outside of their control,” she said.

Locally, more than 80 Queensbury students opted out of the test, which Deputy Superintendent Theresa Middleton blamed on increased anxiety about the math curriculum.

“Right from the beginning of the school year, we had a lot more parents concerned about the math because it was new — a lot of different language, a lot of different methodology,” she said.

Middleton said the “new math” goes into greater depth. For example, instead of just saying that 10 plus 3 equals 13, students have to deliberate and show that the 1 is in the ten’s positions and 3 is in the one’s position. This approach makes sure that students are not just doing problems by rote and is meant to help when students get to algebra.

“All of these things, even though they complicate what seems to be a simple addition problem, is setting the basis for a deep understanding,” she said.

Middleton said part of the problem is the new math curriculum builds upon a foundation set in the early grades, which middle school students haven’t had.

“You have that frustration because these kids have learned a different way,” she said.

Middleton anticipated that the anxiety over the tests will diminish as the curriculum is rolled out.

Like Middleton, South Glens Falls Superintendent Michael Patton hoped that anxiety, which may be coming more from the adults, will diminish over time.

Patton estimated 30 students opted out in his district, primarily at the middle school.

The tests are one way to measure student progress, Patton said. The district’s teachers and principals have been encouraging students to do their best.

“Obviously they’ve worked very hard throughout the year and this is an opportunity to show them what they’ve learned,” he said.

Whitehall Superintendent Elizabeth Legault said she had three opt-outs at the elementary level.

She wished concerned parents would contact her. She believes they might not have all the right information about the Common Core standards and the tests, which are a diagnostic tool for districts.

“It is another assessment that we can use to diagnose where students are — if they need intervention, if they need accelerated courses,” she said.

Glens Falls City School District Superintendent Paul Jenkins, whose district had 40 opt-outs, agreed the tests are just a single measure of students’ academic achievement.

“It’s not what we base everything on for our students. We have our teacher(-given) assessments, which are very important, their day-to-day work in the classroom,” he said.

In Hudson Falls, 23 students in grades 3-8 opted out of the math test, Superintendent Mark Doody said.

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