ALBANY, N.Y. March 12, 2014 – New York State United Teachers today criticized the Regents for failing to act to protect students from educationally unsound "sit-and-stare" testing policies adopted by a number of school districts, saying the Regents' silence sends an irresponsible message and unacceptably puts children "inside the crossfire of the testing debate."
In a strongly worded letter to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and the other Regents, NYSUT again condemned the practice of "sit and stare," in which school districts refuse to make alternative arrangements for children whose parents choose to 'opt out' of state standardized testing in grades 3-8 and, instead, force the students to sit at their desks and stare blankly at the walls for up to 10 hours over three days.
The State Education Department, in guidance to districts last week, tacitly allowed the practice, issuing a directive that, "Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while tests are being administered."
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said the union stands firmly with parents who choose to 'opt out' their children from state tests. Iannuzzi, who taught fourth-grade for most of his 34-year teaching career, said "sit and stare" is not only educationally unsound, but the practice will end up being a distraction for those students who are taking standardized tests.
"Punishing or embarrassing children because their parents exercised their right not to have their children participate in tests they consider inappropriate is, frankly, abusive," Iannuzzi said.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said school districts look to the State Education Department and Regents for sound guidance on testing issues but, again, the Regents are falling short.
"The moral responsibility to treat all students with dignity resides with school personnel and these personnel need guidance from SED on this important issue," Neira wrote, noting while SED's position may pass legal muster, "The State Education Department is sending an irresponsible message on such a deplorable policy as 'sit and stare.'"
Neira called on the Regents and SED to show leadership and instruct districts to provide alternative locations or activities for students whose parents choose to 'opt out' of state testing. "Your silence on this important educational policy issue continues to foster an atmosphere of distrust with parents and educators around the state," she wrote.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.