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Success Academy Bans Opt-Out, Says Students Will Be Forced to Take Tests

By Amy Zimmer | March 29, 2017 3:32pm
 Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success Academy in 2013.
Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success Academy in 2013.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

MANHATTAN — Success Academy charter schools have banned parents from opting their children out of state tests — telling them that any student who shows up on test days will be forced to take the tests, DNAinfo New York has learned.

“Success Academy doesn't allow opt outs because we believe being prepared for tests is critical to a child's education. When parents choose to send their children to a charter school, they sign up for the program — it's not an a la carte program,” Success Academy spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore wrote in an email Wednesday, a day after some parents at the school complained that if they wanted their kids to avoid the tests, they would have to stay home.

The city's largest charter network is helmed by Eva Moskowitz — once considered an early favorite for Donald Trump's Education Secretary. She has been a huge proponent of high-stakes testing —  boasting last year that none of their students opted out.

“I really believe in the tests — I seem to be the only one left standing,” Moskowitz told Chalkbeat last April. “We need to know how the most affluent communities are performing and whether our kids can do as well as those — and you can’t do that with internal assessments.”

The charter chain last week hosted a massive “slam the exam” rally and test score awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in which thousands of its students were pumped up for this week's third Eighth grade tests. The network prides itself on its state tests scores, which are among the highest in the city.

Last year, students at its schools — primarily low-income children of color, admitted by lottery — ranked in the top one percent in the state on the math exams and top 2 percent on English tests, according to the network.

The Department of Education confirmed that charter schools do not need to adhere to its guidance on participation on state tests. Under DOE rules, schools are directed to fill in a bubble at the top of the answer sheet for any student that opts out that reads “Refused Entire Test.” Schools are also supposed to make an effort to arrange for another instructional activity under DOE policies.

“If, after consulting with the principal, the parents still want to opt their child out of the exams, the principal should respect the parents’ decision and let them know that the school will work to the best of their ability to provide the child with an alternate educational activity (e.g., reading) during testing times,” the DOE wrote in a FAQ about the state tests.

► TRUE OR FALSE? Opting Out Could Mean Big Problems for Your Child and School

Parent leaders of the grassroots NYC Opt Out advocacy group said that about of the third of the calls they’ve gotten this year of parents who say they have been pressured to take the tests have been from charter or parochial school parents.

“The charter school parents seemed genuinely perplexed that they could not do this and thought they should have some agency,” said NYC Opt Out's Kemala Karmen.

Karmen said she believes the charters are resorting to pressure tactics because charters rely on touting their successes on test scores in order to differentiate themselves from public schools, which they have accused of being failures because of their test scores.

“It's especially ironic for charters, of course, as they like to wear the ‘public’ label when it comes to taking taxpayer money but ditch it when it comes to parent rights," Karmen said.

City Councilman Brad Lander recently wrote a letter to his constituents in areas like Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Sunset Park, that the choice to opt out should be left to the parent.“

New York State requires that schools offer these tests,” he wrote. “However, students are not required to take them. It is your decision as a parent whether your child will take the NYS tests or opt out.”