With the next round of state assessments starting this month, NYSUT is continuing to pressure the Regents to end their silence on whether schools should force students who opt out of state assessments to "sit and stare" at their desks during test administration.
At the same time, educators and parents are working together at the local level to take on districts and school boards over the abusive testing policy. Many districts are now reversing course and allowing students to read a book or go into another room for quiet educational or remedial activities.
A number of local unions, such as the Buffalo Teachers Federation, have approved resolutions urging their districts to discontinue the painful practice.
A few stubborn districts, such as Williamsville and Lancaster in western New York, refuse to budge. The Williamsville superintendent took an especially hard line, telling the Buffalo News the only reading to be done by the opting-out children in Williamsville will be to "read the test," he said.
"Thanks to a lot of support from teachers and union leaders, we're down to one district on Long Island that is insisting on 'sit and stare' — East Meadow," said Jeanette Deutermann, a parent activist who co-founded New York State Allies for Public Education.
"Many of the others, once they realized SED wasn't going to issue anything definitive, were convinced to do the right thing," she said.
NYSUT leaders slammed the Regents and SED for failing to take a stand. In March, SED issued a guidance document tacitly allowing the practice to continue, saying, "Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while tests are being administered."
NYSUT President Dick 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 educationally unsound and 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," he said.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said school districts look to SED and Regents for sound guidance on testing issues but, again, the Regents are falling short.
While SED's position may pass legal muster, Neira said it certainly doesn't live up to the state policymakers' moral obligation to do what's best for students.
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," Neira wrote, after the board failed to act on the issue at its March meeting.
Neira sent a similar letter in early February urging the commissioner and the Regents not to leave it up to local districts to decide whether to force kids to "sit and stare" during state testing. While SED and the Regents maintain that the right to opt out or refuse testing is not stipulated by state law, Neira said it is certainly a federal right.
NYSUT's advocacy on the "sit and stare" issue is part of the union's continuing effort to hold SED and the Regents accountable.
"Children should not be caught inside the crossfire of the testing debate," Neira said.
What is your district doing for students who opt out of taking state tests? Is it enforcing "sit-and-stare" policies? Providing a space where the students can read or engage in quiet activity?
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