UPPER WEST SIDE — The controversial state tests scheduled next week for elementary and middle school students amount to "child abuse" for special-needs students — and educators' attempts to convince parents to have their kids take them is coercion, foes charged.
At a panel held by Community Education Council 3 Wednesday at P.S. 185 to discuss the pros and cons of state testing, opponents challenged the notion that the tests were useful or appropriate, especially for special-education students.
The meeting included parents and advocates who are fighting the tests, as well as a teacher at M.S. 247 on West 92nd Street and Department of Education Superintendent Ilene Altschul, who are in favor of them.
CEC 3 member Noah Gotbaum spoke of the experience of his son, who has learning challenges, in taking the tests.
"Eighteen hours of testing when he can’t sit through 20 minutes? That’s abusive. And yet the system is saying, 'He’s gotta do this, that there is no such things as an opt out,'" he said. "It’s abusive, it’s outrageous."
Forcing special-needs students to complete such challenging tests and watching their frustration mount is simply unfair, said Bianca Tanis, a special-education educator and panelist who critiqued state testing.
"It’s child abuse," she said, reiterating Gotbaum's statement.
Last week, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told parents who are part of a Brooklyn-based opt-out coalition that she "certainly as a parent would opt out,” if her child had special needs and received services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
While the opt-out movement is growing, parents are still afraid to pull their children out of the tests, one P.S. 199 parent said.
"Nobody [at P.S. 199] has the balls to opt out," she said.
The parent, who also has a child with special needs, said she felt forced to get a private tutor for her daughter, as other parents were, so she could raise her scores.
Additionally, parents at P.S. 87 who are interested in opting out are being coerced by the principal to participate, another parent noted.
She claimed teachers and the principal are under a "gag order" not to talk about the option of opting out.
"[Principals] have been told that when they do receive an opt-out request, they are supposed to talk the parents out of it," she said.
Altschul did not deny that principals have been instructed to hold private meetings with parents interested in opting out.
"There are parents who aren’t as informed… principals are meeting with parents not to change their minds, but to engage in a conversation so that they can make an informed decision," she said.
These meetings are held "to make sure that they’re aware of the implications of the testing," Altschul added.
In the past, parents in other districts interested in opting out reported feeling bullied by principals who were worried about how opting out would affect their schools.
"These third-graders are freaking out about these tests and the principals are freaking out," offered Kerri Keiger, a P.S. 166 parent and a member of the District 3 President's Council, a group of PTA presidents from the district.
To combat the classroom time swallowed up by the tests and undue anxiety brought on by them, Altschul said she's also been encouraging principals in the district to ensure teachers aren't participating in "hours and hours of test prep."
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding principals' communication with parents about state testing.