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Parents Boycott State Tests, Telling Children to Opt Out

By Emily Frost | April 16, 2013 7:02am

NEW YORK CITY — A growing share of parents from across the city are telling their children to boycott required state standardized testing, which begins Tuesday.  

Several hundred students from 33 schools across the city will opt out of the increasingly controversial tests by providing their teachers with a parent-signed letter stating their refusal to take the test, said Jane Hirschmann, founder of the advocacy group Time Out from Testing.

"Our children are becoming sick. They're becoming anxious... They're talking to us in test-speak," said Cynthia Copeland, the mother of a fourth-grader enrolled at a public school in East Harlem who said her child will not take the tests.

Copeland refused to name her school because she said teachers and students who are joining the opt-out movement are being intimidated by the Department of Education.

"One superintendent said he will fail any child who doesn't finish the test," Copeland claimed. 

One version of the letter parents are sending with their children to school is created by the group Change the Stakes and states that "under our guardianship and advice, my child should be scored as a 'refusal,'" rather than as absent.

The letter states that it draws its authority from the New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS) manual.

However, Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said in a statement, "The state does not have a provision for opting out of tests. When students don’t participate in testing, there are implications for promotion, enrollment and accountability."

The increased difficulty of the tests this year, which incorporate the Common Core standards for the first time, infuriated parents like Copeland, who said the change has led to more classroom time spent teaching for the test, rather than learning relevant curriculum.

"We have no understanding of it. It's nuts," Copeland said.

Parent Evelyn Cruz, whose sixth-grader is a student at an East Village school, became emotional talking about her son's despair at the prospect of more tests.

"He tells me, 'Pick me up early. Rescue me,'" she said. "When you drill a kid from September to April, you kill the passion [for learning]."

Jamie Mirabella said her daughter, who is a third-grader, initially was the only student at her Brooklyn school opting out — but she is now joined by more as word about the opt-out movement spreads. 

"It is an act of civil disobedience," Mirabella said, adding that she does not oppose assessment or testing in general, just in such high quantities and with such high stakes.

Copeland and others said they felt confident opting out would not affect their children's progress.