UPPER WEST SIDE — The number of students opting out of state tests at middle and elementary schools has swelled — but parents still don't know enough about what that decision means for their child, local education leaders said.
From 2014 to 2015, the number of city students opting out of the tests — which have been criticized as creating unnecessary "high stakes" for students and a distraction from real learning — more than doubled.
Fewer than 2,000 students opted out in 2014, but that number shot up last year, when roughly 7,200 students opted out of state math test and 5,400 opted out of the English test.
Despite the movement's growth, fears are swirling among local parents who are on the fence about whether to opt out or not, they said.
Parents worry that having their elementary school students bypass the tests will hurt their chances of admission to a district middle school. The district has some of the most popular and selective middle schools in the city, with places like the Computer School (M.S. 245) on West 77th Street only accepting 18 percent of the 786 applications it received for the 2013-2014 school year.
"People have told me, 'If your daughter doesn’t do the testing she probably won’t get in to [West End Secondary School],'" said a P.S. 199 parent, who is interested in her daughter opting out but is ultimately leaving the decision to her, at a panel discussion on the topic Wednesday.
At P.S. 199, "everybody knows the test is flawed," but "all the white rich parents go out and get tutors for their kids," to help their prospects of getting into a competitive local middle school, the parent said at the meeting.
Out of the eight K-8 schools and 12 middle schools in District 3, four of them consider state tests scores as part of their applications, DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul said at the Wednesday discussion.
While these schools consider the tests one piece of the admissions criteria, they cannot be weighted more than 50 percent alongside other factors, Altschul said. If a student doesn't take the state tests — because they're from out of state, previously attended private school or opted out — another factor like a students' grades will be weighted more, she said.
An interview with the student is one of the other considerations in the application process at these four schools, "because [the schools] do want to get to know the whole child," Altschul added.
Ultimately, what's most important to these middle schools is "making sure that [the students] are really interested in their school and committed to wanting to go to them," she said.
Across the city, 30 percent of high schools look at state test scores and 36 percent of middle schools look at state test scores "as one of the multiple measures" of a student's performance, Altschul said.
The Department of Education has instructed schools that use test scores as part of their admissions criteria to formulate an alternative admissions policy for students who don't have these scores, according to a DOE spokeswoman.
Schools are required to share the alternative policy with parents, including how much they will weight different factors like recommendations, grades or attendance in place of the state tests, the spokeswoman said.