By Sara Schabe and Rachael Eyler
Seven out of 10 students in the Bellmore-Merrick district opted out in this years English Language Arts tests. The district had the tenth highest opt-out rate on Long Island, Comsewogue being the highest with nine out of 10 students opting out.
About half of all Long Island students opted out of the ELA test.
Long Island schools have the highest opt-out rates in the state, according to the New York State Education Department.
“We essentially take back our classrooms when we remove this assessment,” Jeanette Brunelle-Deutermann, mother of two students in the Bellmore-Merrick district said. “If enough students in each class opt out, the teachers can teach with autonomy and focus on what is best for the student.”
On September 5, a day after students returned to school, Deutermann informed Bellmore-Merrick schools that her children, one in 7th grade and the other in 10th, would not be taking any standardized tests, choosing to have them only take exams created by the teachers.
New York is the only state to really have an opt-out craze, Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, explained.
“In most states, almost everyone takes the tests and while some teachers or parents grumble, there’s no opt out movement,” Petrilli said. “I think most people understand that public schools are funded by the public and have a responsibility to be transparent to the public about their performance.”
The debate over common core as a whole has dropped out of federal conversation, according to Brendan Bell, a research Assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.
“It kind of has turned into a more localized story,” Bell said.
The debate is still burning strong on Long Island.
Michael Korba, third grade teacher in the Smithtown School District, explains that in the beginning, everyone took the tests.
“Once word got out that the tests were not fair and the curriculum wasn’t in place, parents became more vocal,” Korba said.
As more students have opted out, Korba says that the tests have not affected academic success much.
“Almost all children with an individualized education plan (IEP) opt out,” Korba added. “I have had the better performing students opt out as well but the range of opt outs is mixed.”
Other schools also noticed no correlation between taking the test and academic success. Hampton Bays High School English teacher, Katelyn Maresca, said that students performance has not been affected by the tests.
“The English Regents changed and with that we did change the way we prepare for the test,” Maresca said. “I think that the writing assignments for the test are fair and are better than the previous Regents tasks.”
Students also noticed the tests have minimal effect. Sean LaPeters, a 14-year-old freshman at Ward Melville High School, opted out of the English Language Arts test in the fourth grade and said not taking it hasn’t affected him.
“I just sat in an auditorium and played games,” LaPeters said.
New York state has proposed new financial penalties and other sanctions for school districts with less than 95 percent of students taking the tests.
Long Island politicians are using possible evaluation policies and opt out rates as leverage for support on the ballots. Most people don’t realize, according to Deutermann, that local politicians do not have much control over education.
“Very often you will hear a candidate for a claim that they will eliminate common core,” Deutermann said. “Uninformed voters will hear that and often think that this is correct.”
The New York State Education department and the Board of regents make the curriculum decisions. Politicians are just advocates.
Republican state Sen. Carl Marcellino of Long Island proposed a bill in August to “eliminate the mandatory use of state assessments to determine a teacher or principal’s evaluation,” but has yet to be passed to the floor committee.
The opt out movement is continuing to grow as parents on the island fight to bring the classroom back into the hands of the teachers.
“Politicians didn’t help when they insulted suburban mothers,” Michael Korba said.