By Rachel Siford & Elsie Boskamp
Quogue Elementary School was one of two Long Island schools to be denied the chance to win a federal academic achievement award because of high common core test opt-out rates, Albany officials confirmed last week.
The Federal Blue Ribbon Award is given out nationally to schools to recognize high achievement of students, educators, families and communities. The school was nominated by the state Education Department for the Blue Ribbon award last winter, but it did not achieve the minimum required 95 percent participation rate on standardized tests that were administered in April. Only 88 percent of the school’s eligible students took the tests.
“It doesn’t seem surprising to me that they’d be denied a chance to earn Blue Ribbon status,” Robert Pondiscio, an expert on education-reform issues and the senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said. “Unless you have all or most eligible students tested, it seems pretty obvious to me that you can’t make a determination of whether or not the school has earned the distinction.”
Out of 3,472 elementary schools in New York State, 15 were nominated, and 11 did not qualify for the Federal Blue Ribbon Award because of the opt-outs.
“The state did honor us by recognizing us and spent hours of committee work to put together the application,” Quogue Elementary School Principal Richard Benson said. “We are disappointed. We don’t think it wasn’t really fair that they used this year’s rates instead of a three-year average which would have put us at the 95 percent mark.”
The deputy commissioner originally allowed schools to use a three-year average, and in that case Quogue Elementary School would have qualified. Instead, New York State later changed it to a two-year average of how many people took the test.
“We aren’t going to change our policy for next year because we won’t get nominated again,” Benson said. “We are going to do the best we can do. The kids have been doing well with the Common Core and are proud of what we do whether or not we have the Blue Ribbon Award.”
A growing movement against the Common Core curriculum is fueling the increased refusal for standardized testing, 200,000 opted out in the state last year, 70,000 from Long Island. Parents are calling for a change in the state’s public schooling system and the refusal of awards and threats of lowered funding is not stopping their fight.
“It clearly is only a status symbol,” Jeanette Deutermann, the founder of Long Island Opt-Out, an anti-common core Facebook group with over 22,800 members, said. “And, it’s not a status symbol for our kids and parents, it’s a status symbol for administrators. I wish nobody applied for it.”
Deutermann, a Bellmore mother, also said she is worried about the message the Blue Ribbon sends.
“Administrators make such a big deal about not getting [the Blue Ribbon award|. It’s just so ludicrous,” she said. “Schools should be saying, Blue Ribbon or not, we have an amazing school with amazing kids and an amazing staff.”
Deutermann’s Facebook following helped to generate more than the 70,000 opt-outs last school year on Long Island, the most concentrated area of test refusals in New York state. Members use the group as a forum to voice their opinions and concerns about the nation’s public schools.
“Parents and educators have been leading voices against the misuse of state tests for high-stakes decisions involving students and teachers,” Carl Korn, New York State United Teachers chief press officer said. “The parent-led ‘opt-out’ movement made a clear statement and it’s a shame the federal government chose to punish schools instead of listening — truly listening — to what parents want.”
“I think parents, teachers and schools who resist the destruction of the public education system should get red, white and blue ribbons,” Liz Stack, a member of Long Island Opt-Out and an English teacher at Baldwin High School in Pennsylvania, said.