Albion says students refusing tests won’t have to ‘sit and stare’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Michelle Restivo addresses the Board of Education on Monday, thanking the board for allowing students who refuse state tests to be allowed to read in the classroom. She said other districts have allowed children not taking the tests to go to a separate room. Albion has declined to do that.

ALBION – School officials were thanked during Monday’s Board of Education meeting for not making students “sit and stare” if they refuse to take state exams in grades 3 through 8. Those tests start today.

Albion is allowing students who refuse the tests to remain in the classroom and read quietly at their desks. The reading material won’t be books or magazines brought in by students. It will reading material supplied by the school.

“We thank you for recently allowing our children to read silently during the test period,” said Michelle Restivo, mother of two students in the district.

Many other districts are allowing students who refuse the test to go to a separate room. Restivo said the School Administrators Association of NYS encourages students refusing the tests to not remain in the same room with their classmates who are taking the test.

“It is SAANYS position that such a procedure might be distracting to test takers and some may regard such a requirement to be uncomfortable for the students opting out,” Restivo said.

Albion school leaders have decided to keep the students in the same room.

Restivo spoke on behalf of a group of parents concerned about the state tests. Many of those parents and their children are refusing the tests.

Restivo said the district has already been notified the students won’t be taking them, and those students shouldn’t be presented testing materials. To present them testing materials, and insist they sign their test booklets after parents already stated their intention to refuse the tests, is wrong and could be considered abusive by the Dignity for All Students Act, she said.

“Students who have been protected by their parents’ right to refuse tests have done absolutely nothing wrong,” she said. “Presenting these tests to students and asking them to refuse, after you have received express wishes from parents, is harassment, intimidation, bullying and abuse as defined by DASA.”

The district received some refusal letters from parents after testing labels were printed. District Superintedent Michael Bonnewell said there are about 10 to 12 students who came after the deadline who will need to sign their names. The other students refusing the tests, who notified the district before the deadline, won’t have to sign their names on the test booklets, Bonnewell said.

He said teachers or other school personnel cannot, by state law, write on those exam booklets. The students need to do that.

“Our intent is to honor the desire to refuse the test,” he said. “Our intent isn’t to make parents’ or students’ lives difficult.”

Restivo said that standardized testing is necessary, but state’s approach disempowers parents, school administrators and districts.

“Standardized tests that are teacher created and scored would provide much more insight into our children’s progress as learners,” she said. “Assessments should guide future instruction in order to provide the best education for our children, and we have little faith that these tests do that.”

Bonnewell said he shares many of the concerns raised by Restivo, parents and staff about the testing, but the district has to follow the state education rules.

“It remains the law of the land and we have to work to change that law to make it appropriate,” he said.

Restivo said the parents aren’t asking the district to not follow education laws. By refusing the tests, Restivo said parents and their children are exercising their democratic rights to stand up for their principles, believing it will lead to a greater good.

“It is our opinion that teachers and students are not failing, like the state has led us to believe,” Restivo said. “Rather the state has failed us by over-testing our children, and misusing the results. We refuse the NYS Common Core assessments in grades 3-8. We support Albion Central School District – its administrators, teachers and students. Most importantly, we support our children and we ask that you will, too.”

One student, Freshman Class Vice President Riley Seielstad, also addressed the board and the parents in the crowd and urged students to take the tests. She worries the “opt out” movement could result in less funding for school districts, perhaps hurting music and sports programs.

State aid isn’t supposed to be affected if students refuse the tests.

Seielstad urged students to take the exams, which are 90 minutes a day over six days.

“I think 90 minutes is worth the effort for music and sports,” she said.