Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to fail

Students opt out of state exams en masse in effective display of discontent

When it comes to standardized testing, it’s looking increasingly unlikely Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going to get his way.

The governor’s recommended emphasis on testing results in teacher evaluations has been consistently met with disapproval throughout New York State, extending to proposed boycotts by teachers and protests by parents.

And now, students themselves are a factor in this debate, as record numbers of third through eighth graders are opting out of the tests, which started on Tuesday.

In West Seneca, a stunning 70 percent of eligible students did not take the tests.

Multiple school districts, including Lake Shore, North Tonawanda, Springville-Griffith and Lackawanna posted similarly high numbers, ranging from 42-58 percent of students opting out.

Last year, just 5.5 percent of Western New York students opted out – an astonishing jump in numbers.

The testing is controversial not only because it’s associated with Cuomo’s proposed evaluations but also because the subject matter is aligned with the equally contested Common Core learning standards, now in their third year.

These passionately debated – and frequently lambasted – educational policies exacerbate a general attitude of suspicion, anxiety and exhaustion directed toward standardized testing, which many parents complain is an unnecessary source of stress on their children, and an unfortunate influence on curricula and priorities in the classroom.

“Teaching to the test” takes over the classroom when the results of standardized tests are emphasized more than student learning.

The mass opt-outs across Western New York are as important as they are dramatic – these record numbers should send a powerful message to Cuomo, and should also encourage him to reevaluate his current stance on the importance of standardized tests.

And even if Cuomo isn’t swayed by principle, the practical implications of the reduced number of test-takers are also relevant.

With so few students sitting for these exams, the results can no longer be considered as an accurate representation of schools’ and teachers’ effectiveness.

This protest is both symbolic and strategic, and it’s commendable that so many parents banded together to express their opinion through action.

At the same time, it’s fair to acknowledge that students of all ages need to practice test-taking skills – experiencing the pressure of an exam and being expected to function in a stressful situation should be an element of students’ educational experiences.

But it shouldn’t be the focus, especially for younger students, who have the right to recess, to arts education and a more diversified learning experience.

As students grow older and face the arguably unavoidable tests like the SAT and ACT, developing coping mechanisms for high-pressure academic situations becomes more important, but for elementary school students, it simply shouldn’t be the priority.

Assessment is a part of the academic experience and parents and students need to accept that. But this sort of testing should serve a purpose that benefits everyone involved – allowing teachers, students and parents to understand what information students are understanding and what topics need further instruction.

And some standardized tests, like the PSAT and other college readiness exams, serve as an important component in college applications and also provide students with opportunities to earn scholarships and academic recognition.

The state’s standardized testing that’s currently being boycotted by so many students offers none of these incentives.

Parents don’t even get to see the results of the tests – students spend hours taking the exams, and even more time preparing for them, and receive nothing in return.

So it’s only fair that Cuomo, with his unwillingness to compromise or listen to the protests of parents and teachers, gets unsatisfactory results of his own.