Surge of the Opt-Out Movement Against English Language Arts Exam is Act of Mass Civil Disobedience

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the New York Daily News

Surge of the Opt-Out Movement Against English Language Arts Exam is Act of Mass Civil Disobedience

At Public School 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, some 20% refused. And at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, 36% boycotted, local parent leaders said. (Todd Maisel/New York Daily News)

Remember the number 999.

It’s the computer code that keeps track of what will go down as a historic grass-roots movement in public education in New York State.

Tens of thousands of parents rebelled this week against years of standardized testing from the politicians in Albany. They joined the national opt-out movement by refusing to allow their children to take the annual state-mandated English Language Arts exam.

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.The movement has grown so rapidly in recent years that the state instructed teachers beforehand to bubble in “999” as the final score for any child refusing the exam — the code for opt out.

Still, officials in both the state and city departments of education claim they don’t know yet how many of the 1.1 million pupils scheduled for testing in grades 3 to 8 joined the boycott.

Protest organizers said Thursday that at least 155,000 pupils did — with only half of school districts tallied so far.

At some Long Island and upstate school districts, abstention levels reached 80%.

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.

It’s even more impressive because top education officials publicly warned school districts they risk losing federal funds if nonparticipation surpasses 5%.

“To react to parents who are speaking out by threatening to defund our schools is outrageous,” said Megan Diver, the mother of twin girls who refused their third-grade test at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

To Diver and other parents, the politicians like Gov. Cuomo have ignored more than a year of huge town hall meetings across the state where parents voiced frustration with the constant testing and the new Common Core curriculum the state now uses.

Back in 2009, the old state tests showed 77% of students statewide were proficient in English. The next year, the pass level was raised and the proficiency percentage dropped to 57%. A few years later, Albany introduced Common Core and the level plummeted even more — to 31% statewide.

Same children. Same teachers. Different test.

The politicians created a test that says all schools are failing, not just the ones in the big cities, then declare a crisis, so they can close more neighborhood schools, launch more charter schools, and target more teachers for firing.

Meanwhile, the private company that fashioned this new test, Pearson, insists on total secrecy over its content.

This week, test instructions even warned teachers not to “read, review, or duplicate the contents of secure test material before, during, or after test administration.”

What kind of testing company forbids a teacher from reading the test he or she administers?

Little wonder so many parents decided the only way to be heard was joining the opt-out movement. Next Tuesday begins round two — the state math tests.

Juan Gonzalez

Juan Gonzalez is a columnist for the New York Daily News and frequent co-host of Democracy Now!. Juan's most recent book Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse documents cover-ups by Environmental Protection Agency and government officials about health hazards at Ground Zero in New York. He is also the author of the book, Harvest of Empire: The History of Latinos in America.

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