Highland releases opt out test data

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 6/21/23


William Zimmer, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Highland School District, recently gave an interview to the Southern Ulster Times to explain the opt out …

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Highland releases opt out test data

William Zimmer, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Highland School District, recently gave an interview to the Southern Ulster Times to explain the opt out totals in 2023 for the English Language Arts [ELA] and Math exams for the Elementary and Middle School students.  
Zimmer released data on the number of students who took the tests this year, first by giving the total enrollments: in the elementary grades 3 through 5 there are 334 students, and for the middle school grades 6 through 8 there are 367 students.
For the ELA tests at the elementary school: in grade 3 there were 18 who opted out; 23 in grade 4 and 31 in grade 5 for a total of 72, or overall 22%.
In the Math testing: for grade 3 there were 17 who opted out, in grade 4 there were 20 and in grade 5 there were 28 for a total of 65, or overall 20%.
For the ELA testing at the Middle School: in grade 6 there were 41 who opted out, in grade 7 there were 56 and in grade 8 there were 62 for a total of 159, or 43%.
In the Math testing; in grade 6 there were 38 who opted out, in grade 7 there were 62 and in grade 8 there were 46 for a total of 146, or 40%
Zimmer said these tests are usually given in the beginning of April, and although the district knows the opt-out totals, the actual grade results will be available in August.
“We don’t know how well or how poorly our students did yet, we just know how many student took them,” he said, adding that the district still has time to put in place remedial support for students before the start of the new school year in September.  
Zimmer said ten years ago the then Common Core Curriculum originally tied testing to the annual teacher evaluations across New York State.
“So depending how well or how poorly the students did, it would affect their [teacher] evaluations, so that was the controversy and that’s when this whole opt out thing started,” he said.
Zimmer further explained that the evaluations, “have to do with the state assigning a number to the teacher evaluations, not the students.” He said back then there were also some issues with the company that created the tests.
Zimmer recalled that parents then were afraid that personal identifying information about their children would get out into the public realm since the testing was not anonymous; however, he still supports students taking the tests.  
“The reason it is important to have the kids take it is that we can offer courses the following year based on their performance,” he said. He pointed out that the testing data helps the district identify what kind of extra support is needed for the students.
“When only 50% of the students take the tests, we only know what half of the kids really need,” he said.  
Zimmer said this system of testing tied to teacher evaluations remained in place until just a few years ago when the NYS Department of Education separated them.   
“When that happened, most districts assumed that the opt out would stop because there is no reason not to take the tests; but they didn’t,” he said, noting that at the elementary and middle school levels kids could opt out, but once they reached high school the option went away.
Zimmer said the tests evaluate the students’ skill level and proficiency in these areas, “such as being able to read a paragraph and summarize it or read a paragraph and answer some multiple choice questions.” He pointed out with the same tests being administered statewide, “we can now see where our students are compared to neighboring districts and others across the state; it’s really about seeing where our curriculum is in regards to how well we’re preparing the students for the future. If everybody takes the same test, it makes sense that we can [then] compare district to district.”
Zimmer said no opt-out forms are sent home to the parents.
“It’s not that we give them the options to opt out, but they choose not to send their child in that [test] day or they send in a note saying I don’t want my son taking the Math or ELA test.” He said make-up testing days are scheduled a few days later for students who were legitimately sick or had a reason for their absence.   
Zimmer encourages students to take these tests, “because the more students who take them, the more helpful it is to us and the better support we can provide to the children.”  
Zimmer acknowledges that many students opt out in grades 3 through 8, “but all of a sudden when they get to 9th and 10th grades they have to take a Regents exam when they’ve never actually had to sit for a state test before; so taking these tests [now] is excellent low stakes practice for them when they take a three hour exam.”