Archives for category: Opt Out


After months of threats and bribes and warnings, the New York State Education Department released a statement affirming that students have the right to opt out of state testing.

This is a victory for the Opt Out movement, the parents, superintendents, principals, and teachers who have said that the exams are flawed and of novalue to students.

This is the statement:


As students in grades 3 through 8 take New York’s state assessments this week, we appreciate the efforts of school leaders to ensure parents have all information to make a decision about the assessments that is right for their family. We would like to remind school leaders of the importance of honoring requests received by parents to opt their children out of the exams. While federal law does require all states to administer state assessments in English language arts and mathematics, parents have a right to opt their children out of these exams. To be certain, the vast majority of schools honor parents’ requests to have their children not take the tests; however, we have also heard of isolated but troubling reports of parents’ requests being ignored.
We thank New York’s parents, teachers, and school administrators for their support and understanding as we continue to work together in the best interest of all students.

Numerous studies have shown that students do better on paper and pencil tests than on computer tests. For the record, the tests are a massive waste of time. But students often get lost online. They scroll up and down. They lose their place and their train of thought. Online testing is so flawed as to be useless.

Some states, like Tennessee, have had computer testing ruin the whole testing process.

Yet MaryEllen Elia clings ferociously to computer testing because she just plain loves it. She believes in computer testing no matter how much it fails.

Parents are sick of it. 

Many know that it wastes students’ time, steals instructional time, and wastes millions of dollars.

Wise parents Opt Out.

Computer testing is so yesterday.



Last year, a majority of juniors at Palo Alto High School did not take the state tests. State law protects the right of students to opt out. The tests have no value other than to prop up the testing regime.

Now the district superintendent, in an all-Out effort to break the opt out, is pulling out all the stops and offering prizes and awards to students who take the tests. 

“All juniors at Palo Alto High School will be required to participate in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress this year, in an effort by the school board to assemble a higher participation rate, according to Supt. Don Austin.

“The Palo Alto Unified School District is offering incentives to students who complete all of the CAASPP examinations next week, according to an email forwarded to Paly parents by Assistant principal Tom Keating, from Superintendent Austin.

“Through a raffle, students will be able to win student parking permits for the 2019-20 school year (which usually cost up to $100), athletic passes for the 2019-20 school year, 2018-19 yearbooks or VIP parking passes to the 2019-20 graduation ceremony.

“Regardless, all students who complete all of the testings will win one item of Paly “swag,” according to the letter.

“Last year, only 40 percent of Paly juniors completed the test, compared to the 95 percent required participation rate, Austin stated in an email to parents on Feb. 28.

“In the email, Austin stated that although parents are highly encouraged to permit students to take the exam, parents or guardians are able to submit a written request to the principal of their student’s school to excuse their child from any or all parts of the CAASPP summative assessments.

“Compared to Henry M. Gunn High School, which had a parent-guardian exemption percentage that fell from 64 percent in 2016  to 28 percent in 2017, Paly has a previous history of having an abnormally low attendance record compared to other schools, according to an article by Palo Alto Online. 

“In the email, assistant principal Keating also stated that one of the major benefits of taking the exam is state recognition and awards upon graduation. Students are able to earn three additional awards or seals with the completion of the exam.”

The local paper claims that the tests are “mandatory.” But they are not.

Opting out is legal! 


The editorial board of the Albany Times-Union editorial board is one of the wisest in the nation. It understands, as few other editorial boards do, that the annual standardized tests are a waste of instructional time that do nothing to help students. Their only error in this editorial is to assume that the tests measure school performance. They don’t. They measure school demographics, which can be obtained without the testing.

The editorial board objects to the state and districts’ efforts to bribe or threaten students to take these useless tests.


Which word or words best describe some schools’ approach to last week’s state English tests for grades three through eight?

(a) misguided

(b) disappointing

(c) both of the above

Take out your No. 2 pencil and bubble in (c). New York has been working hard to make testing better. But last week’s reports of how schools are incentivizing test participation show we have a long way to go.

Some schools.. have dangled a deal in front of their students: Take the statewide English and math tests and you’ll get out of taking your core subject finals in June. Other schools have promised pizza parties if enough students take the tests or have held pep rallies to encourage them. 

Still others have taken a sterner approach, pressuring parents or doing away with “refusal rooms” for students whose parents opted them out…

All of these approaches are troubling.

Let’s recall what the tests are for. They aren’t a measure of children’s progress. They’re a measure of schools’ performance. They’re not designed to help the kids who take them, at least not directly. The results don’t even arrive till the next school year…

Instead, these assessments — mandated, along with a minimum 95 percent participation rate, under federal law — have warped the curriculum, chipping away at social studies, science, art, even recess, in the push to provide more English and math instruction. Emphasizing standardized tests over regular classroom work — yes, including final exams — is a distraction from real education.

Pep rallies for an exam? Why not a pep rally to encourage, say, participation in the science fair? And bribes and cajolery are not the tools of a system that’s working correctly. They’re signs that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important. Hint: It’s not increasing a school’s test participation rates.

And perseverance and resilience? Better for children to learn to persevere through a long-term project like a science experiment or a poetry portfolio; better to learn resilience through a chance to revise a tough math worksheet or the challenge of presenting in front of the class. Perseverance certainly isn’t taught by tests plagued by the kinds of computer glitches we saw last week, which only raise kids’ frustration and parents’ ire…

Save the pep rallies for things that really count.


Opt Out lives!

Meanwhile computer glitches across scattered districts caused student answers to disappear and other problems.

Computer-based assessment is a dumb idea.

Citizens for Public Schools issued a statement today calling on the state to stop lying about parents’ right to opt out of state testing:


For immediate release, April 3, 2019

Contact: Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director 617-959-2371 (cell)

Citizens for Public Schools Calls on MA DESE to Remove Misleading Information on MCAS Participation Immediately

With MCAS testing season upon us, Citizens for Public Schools calls on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to immediately delete misinformation on its web site and provide clear, consistent and accurate information to parents who choose to refuse testing for their children and to school officials charged with administering the test.

Specifically, we demand that DESE remove language falsely implying that it is illegal for students and/or their parents to refuse to participate in MCAS testing. On a page titled Participation Requirements for Students in Grades 3-8 and 10, it says: “The 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Law, state law M. G. L. Chapter 69, section 1I, mandates that all students in the tested grades who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS.”

This is not accurate.

The law requires the state to administer the test. There is no mention of students being mandated to take it. Former Commissioner Mitchell Chester often said there is no provision for opting out in Massachusetts law. But when asked by WBUR whether it was illegal to opt out, Chester answered, “I haven’t used the word ‘illegal.’ There is no provision to opt out. Parents have in the past had their students refuse to take the test… That’s always been part of the landscape.” 

 But the new language on the state website–saying students are “mandated” to take the test, does suggest that refusal is illegal.

For more than 25 years, since the introduction of the high-stakes use of MCAS testing, thousands of parents in Massachusetts (and millions across the country) have chosen to opt out or refuse testing for their children.

 Parents opt their children out of the test for varied reasons. Some do it to protest the harm to children’s education inflicted by the state’s laser focus on test scores. Others do it because, for their children, because of disabilities or for other reasons, taking the test is a trauma. It is cruel and unfair to tell parents that their effort to protect their children from harm violates a legal “mandate” when no such law exists.

In the past, DESE guidance for MCAS administration has promoted participation in state testing, but has also explicitly advised school officials to respect the wishes of parents who refuse. For example, a 2017 memo from former Acting Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson says, “Students should not be forced to take the test against their will.” A 2016 memo said, “We ask principals and test proctors to handle refusals with sensitivity. Students should not be pressured to take the test, nor should they be punished for not taking the test.” (See

There have been no state or federal laws passed since DESE provided that guidance (and Commissioner Chester made his statement) that make it illegal to refuse MCAS testing.

Therefore, we demand that the record be corrected and accurate information be disseminated ASAP so that no student or parent is pressured or threatened for exercising their right to refuse testing.   


CPS’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect public schools and public education. CPS opposes any political or social initiative that seeks to infringe on or endanger such a vital resource as our public schools. For more information on the CPS mission and goals, see

The New York State Allies for Public Education issued this statement in opposition to State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s efforts to “bribe, coerce, manipulate, and threaten students and parents into complying with a broken assessment system.” NYSAPE has led the opt out movement for several years. About 20 percent of eligible students in grades 3-8 do not take the state tests. About half the students on Long Island boycotted the tests. In some schools on Long Island and upstate New York, more than 75% of students refused to take the tests. Commissioner Elia doesn’t listen to parents. She doubles down and tries to force them to take the tests, which provide no information about individual performance to teachers. The tests are meaningless other than as punishments for students, schools and teachers, and they require far more time than taking an SAT for college admission.




More information contact
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228;

Kemala Karmen (917) 807-9969;
NYS Allies for Public Education – NYSAPE


Link to Press Release


NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia Creates a Culture of Fear, Intimidation, and Misinformation in our Schools


The Every Student Succeeds Act (the federal law known as ESSA) gives states authority to design their own unique accountability plan regarding the state tests. Unfortunately, Commissioner Elia has used that authority to misinterpret ESSA, and has used ESSA as an opportunity to impose a culture of fear on our administrators and teachers, and our children.  Under Commissioner Elia’s direction, the State Education Department (SED) at best turns a blind eye to, and at worst encourages, school districts to bribe, coerce, manipulate, and threaten students and parents into complying with a broken assessment system.

As we head into the first round of 2019 grades 3-8 state testing, NYSAPE is receiving an unprecedented number of reports from parents statewide about morally objectionable, educationally unsound, and in some cases, illegal policies and tactics that local schools and districts are using in attempts to suppress test refusal. Parents are reporting bribery with prizes, parties, and exemptions from district course finals. Students are threatened with removal from or ineligibility for honors programs, retention, and summer school; schools are threatened with closure.

Misinformation and scare tactics are coming from school districts, administrators, and even SED itself (see NYSUT’s rebuttal to the Commissioner), and range from claims that refusal students will be scored a ‘1’ and that the tests were created by teachers to statements that the assessments are “vital” and more. The New York City Department of Education even sent out letters–which they later had to retract–informing parents they could transfer out of their schools. Whether the city acted on its own or at the behest of SED is unknown, but SED’s endorsement of “public school choice” for the NY ESSA plan, along with its reductive test-based criteria for identifying these schools as in need of “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” (CSI) certainly paved the way for this debacle. The panic and humiliation caused by identifying schools as CSI was not limited to the city, but was felt in districts all over the state.

Most concerning is the resurgence of purely punitive policies like “sit and stare” (a cruel practice where test refusers as young as 8 must sit in the room with the testers with not so much as a book or a pencil to divert themselves with) and forcing elementary refusers to do old state assessments throughout the testing administration hours. Outraged parents have questioned these abusive actions, and the response many have received from their districts is that these tactics were suggested and encouraged, incredibly, by Commissioner Elia of the New York State Education Department.

A letter from the principal of the Oswego Middle School to her students perfectly illustrates that the NYS grades 3-8 testing system has gone completely off the rails. The sole purpose of the letter was to convince children “why you should say yes to the test.” Given out during the school day, for students to sign while still in school, the letter indicated they should “feel free to share with your parents.” It invoked a warped child psychology, attempting to manipulate students with phrases such as, “you love OMS, and we LOVE YOU! So, you WANT TO HELP!”  “If you take the NYS ELA Assessment…you can be exempt from the English Final Exam in June!,” and “Daily Drawings for FABULOUS prizes for all ‘YES’ slips.”  And, finally, as a way to single out any child whose parents had decided they wouldn’t be participating, “…a school-wide event if we can hit 100%! Something like a Spring Pep Rally….your favorite teachers will do something FUNNY ‘like’ KISS A PIG.”

Any policy that singles out, discriminates against, rewards, or punishes school children for the decisions of their parents is cause for deep concern. It’s appalling and disconcerting that Commissioner Elia/SED is encouraging these unacceptable policies. SED must immediately admonish these policies, and address the many flaws, complaints, educational issues, and legal questions raised by this deeply flawed testing program—for years the most highly boycotted state testing system in the nation.

NYSAPE calls on the NYS Legislature to pass legislation, before session ends, that reinforces a parent’s right to opt out, protects students from punishment, requires districts to notify parents at the beginning of the school year about those rights, and forbids SED and school administrators to bribe, punish, lie, and manipulate as a way to increase test participation. Neither students, administrators, schools, nor districts should suffer retaliation or negative consequences as the result of parents exercising their right to refuse the state tests.

NYSAPE and parents statewide will continue to monitor the policies and tactics encouraged by SED and implemented by school districts who have chosen to comply with misguided directives rather than advocate for the students in their care. We believe the time has come for the Board of Regents to bring in a Commissioner who values a whole-child education, respects parental rights, and places our children’s best interests at the forefront.



NYSUT, The New York State United Teachers, issued a blistering fact check of State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s claims about the state tests. 

You have to open it to get the full flavor because NYSUT, not normally outspoken, shreds Elia’s claims.

Elia writes in Orwellian Newspeak about value of the tests.

NYSUT response: Because of the lack of movement by SED on NYSUT’s suggested changes to the testing system, the current tests do not provide any useful information to parents or teachers or any real information on how a district is performing. The results do not accurately predict future student success. In fact, the tests mislabel more than half of the test takers as failing, while more than 80 percent of students go on to graduate from high school. The results of the current tests are not only useless, but also damaging to students.

There are several such exchanges.

Bear in mind that no one but the testing company is allowed to know student responses to questions. So teachers learn NOTHING about the strengths or weaknesses of their students. Teachers, students, and parents get a score but nothing of any diagnostic value.

All students in grades 3-8 should OPT OUT of these pointless tests.


Fred Smith is a testing expert in New York who worked for the NYC Board of Education for many years. He advises the opt out movement.

He writes:

“For five years, 2012 – 2016, Pearson Inc. had a free ride that cost taxpayers $38 million for tests aligned with the Common Core blah blah. Pearson was shielded in completing its run by the State Education Department, which allowed the company to operate without having to provide information about how its exams were functioning. There would be no timely or complete disclosure of data about test materials, such as item statistics, thwarting the opportunity for independent review of their quality; a gag order that prevented teachers from discussing flaws in the exams; top-down engenderment of fear and confusion among parents abetted by compliant superintendents and too many jittery administrators, denying parents information about their right to opt out, effectively keeping most parents marching along blindly to the annual testing beat; and all the while Pearson and NYSED flouting professional standards for educational testing, while most of the academic world watched silently.

“But by 2014 and 2015 a growing opt out movement arose on Long Island and upstate outside of New York City—brilliantly spearheaded by a few indignant parents activists who summoned the courage to say “NO” and drew on a well of leadership skills and organizing ability–the extent to which, perhaps, they did not know they possessed. And 20% of the children targeted for the tests sat them out. Evidence finally obtained from the state and the city revealed that the opposition the exams was fully justified. I urge readers of this influential tide-turning blog to Google a series of reports (“Tests Are Turning Our Kids Into Zeroes”) posted by the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY, New Paltz.

“So where does that leave us? I would hope that parents and other interested parties draw upon our experience with Pearson. A two-stage plan of action is needed as Questar (Pearson’s successor) is about to enter the third year of its five-year, $44 million agreement with SED this April. Before this occurs, a reasonable demand by parents and advocates would be for immediate information about how Questar’s exams worked in 2017 and 2018. To date, such information has not been forthcoming. Lack of transparency and lack of accountability must no longer be accepted as SOP. Stage 2 would follow: If, in two weeks, we don’t get information that we know is already in hand, that should help drive home the message that opting out in April is a rational alternative and a direct way for the voice of parents to be heard. I believe that pushing back against the tests could unify grass roots groups throughout the city on a number of issues that focus the well-being of all children.”


David Gamberg is a child-centered, progressive school superintendent on Long Island. He was superintendent in Southold on the North Fork of the Island and was so highly regarded that when a vacancy occurred in Greenport, the district next door, Gamberg was invited to become superintendent of both districts.

His districts have high opt out rates, not because he tells them to, but because he tells parents they have the right to opt out.

Now, because of the high opt out rate at Greenport High School, where 83% of the students did not take the test, the state has labeled GHS a failing school. 

This is the work of the State Education Department and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who never met a test she didn’t love.

How can a school be punished because parents and students exercised their right to opt out?

Ask Commissioner Elia.