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Nearly 1/6 Of New York Students Skip Common Core Tests

A new calculation conducted by The New York Times estimates more than 165,000 New York students, one-sixth of those eligible, refused to take the new Common Core-aligned standardized tests.

That makes New York’s opt-out campaign by far the country’s largest, and could lead to a clash between state lawmakers and federal regulators.

While other states had a handful of districts see large opt-out efforts, in New York the protest is truly statewide. Dozens of districts from Long Island to the Canadian border had more than 50 percent of students refuse tests (Chateaugay near the Canadian border had a 90 percent refusal rate), and districts with opt-out rates of under 5 percent were actually the exception rather than the rule. The variation between districts is immense, even in regions with many similarities. For instance, the New York City suburbs of Suffolk County on Long Island almost all had opt-out rates of 50 percent or more, while the suburbs of Westchester County north of the city had very low ones.

Overall, however, the boycott is concentrated among members of the state’s upper middle class. In districts where only 5-10 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch (a proxy for a school’s poverty rate), more than 30 percent of students are refusing tests, while in the poorest schools opt-out rates were extremely low.

Across the country, Common Core-aligned exams have been touted as tougher than those they’re replacing (something Core backers intended), but New York’s new tests have been especially grueling. In fact, an analysis by the non-profit group Achieve rated New York’s new tests as more challenging than the national NAEP tests, which are benchmarked against international standards and typically seen as setting a very high bar most students cannot hope to meet. As a result, New York’s proficiency rates in reading and math have plunged.

Supporters of the tougher standards have pointed out that lower proficiency doesn’t equate to less-educated students, but that hasn’t stopped some parents from becoming distressed, and New York’s opt-out rates have surged rapidly. In 2013, almost every district in the state had at least 95 percent of students take standardized tests, and an organized opt-out movement largely didn’t exist. This year, only 30 out of 440 districts did so.

That 95 percent figure is important, because federal No Child Left Behind rules require states to test at least that many students. The mass opt-outs mean that most New York schools are missing that threshold, and it’s not clear what action the federal government may take in response. In April, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said it was possible the Department of Education might apply financial pressure on state governments to compel greater testing compliance. (RELATED: Obama Admin May Force Students To Take Tests)

Other states have seen scattered boycotts and select districts with mass refusals, but nothing close to the mass movement that has developed in the Empire State. Besides the higher difficulty of its tests, New York’s opt-out campaign may be stronger because it has already been using Common Core-aligned tests for two years, while most other states only rolled out such tests this spring. In addition, New York’s boycott has seen a substantial amount of support from unionized teachers and even some administrators, which has lent greater professional legitimacy to the effort. Even Karen McGee, president of the powerful New York State United Teachers, urged parents to pull their kids out of tests.

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